Coach to crack desert race for charity

Abundant Life's cycling ambassador Paul Jacobs.

The Nedbank Desert Dash in the Namib is the longest single-stage mountain bike race in the world, and a 45-year-old sports coach from Panorama is going to have a crack at it in aid of the Wynberg hospice that cared for his girlfriend’s late husband.

The race, which takes place on Friday December 9, is a test of the mind and body, with a dash of ego thrown in for good measure. Paul Jacobs’s inspiration for doing it is Abundant Life Palliative Care, run out of Victoria Hospital.

“My girlfriend’s late husband, André Vermaak, was a dedicated competitive cyclist, but his passion for life ended with multiple organ failure. He died aged 43, after a long struggle,” said Paul.

At a point of total despair and feeling like there was nowhere to turn, Noeleen Vermaak found Abundant Life.

The hospice, run by Sister Liz Pitout and Dr Clint Cupido, has cared for more than 1 600 patients in the final stages of life since it was started in 2009.

It has a shoestring budget, relying on donations and volunteers, but despite this, Dr Cupido and Sister Pitout hope to see Abundant Life facilities at every hospital in the country one day.

“Abundant Life Palliative Care is inspired by Paul Jacobs. He came to us at a moment of low morale and his gesture has been a turning point in our journey. To think that we have impacted people this much, that he is cycling to support our patients and this service, which is so needed. It’s just wonderful, and we cannot but thank him for his efforts. We hope that others will join us in our efforts to put the care back into healthcare,” said Dr Cupido.

Paul competed in the Desert Dash last year. When his dad died suddenly mid-June, he decided to do it again, this time dedicating it to his dad. He hopes to shave three hours off his time.

As he talks, his voice falters. He says the more he thinks about the race the more he asks why he is doing it again.

Participants must complete the 369km rocky, dirt road, from Windhoek to Swakopmund. Paul and Noeleen are among 198 cyclists who applied from around the world to take part in the challenge. “It’s first come, first served, and entries are sold out in minutes, so no ‘qualifying’,” said Paul.

Participants have 24 hours to cross the Namib Desert through wind and sand with extreme temperatures, fluctuating from sub-zero in the morning to the sizzling 40s in the middle of the day. And no, it is not a downhill coast to the Atlantic Ocean but instead there’s a 3 000m climb to the coast.

“It’s a sensory overload; the mind is in so much pain from so many places in the body. When my legs have turned to jelly, I just think about my next pedal stroke and go into the zone,” Paul said, adding that he will be thinking about the work Abundant Life does to stay motivated.

”Let’s face it, we’re all going to die, it’s just how we do it,” he said.

Paul is already training for the race. “It’s called LSD, and not what you’re thinking,” he adds. “Long, steady, distance, getting the body used to being on a bike, the strain on hands, feet and seat bones, and obviously the mind,” he said.

In between he is taking part in the Coronation Double Century, a 200km team time trial in Swellendam in November.

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