Tackling the tour in the back of a buggy

Constantias Damian Gower will be enjoying the Cape Town Cycle tour in the back of a buggy again this year.

Next weekend thousands of riders will hop in the saddle to take on the Mother City’s biggest road cycle race, the Cape Town Cycle Tour.

Hours of preparation, climbing hills and putting in the mileage leading up to race day will culminate in one final flurry as helmets are strapped onto chins, cleats are clipped into pedals and seedings line up in their groups.

For most, the thought of not being able to simply hop onto their bikes and kick up their gears will be an overlooked privilege. However, there are those among us who may not always be so fortunate, for whom the mammoth task of performing any of the activities we take for granted has to come as special recourse.

This year, thanks to the efforts of the Warrior on Wheels Foundation, four differently-abled children with be afforded the chance to take in the tour from the back of a buggy, strapped in tightly as they are hauled through the route by some courageous volunteers who are putting their bodies through the rigours of the ride to help those who aren’t able to just jump on the bike themselves.

The four are Constantia’s Damian Gower, 18, who has been wheelchair-bound since having a reaction to a vaccination at nine months old; Edgemead’s Ruan Belcher, 19, who survived a near drowning at the age of 2; Elsies River’s Zeah Dammies, 11, diagnosed with cerebral palsy; and Andry Cloete, 15, who lives in an orphanage in Moorreesburg and has spastic diplegia.

For all except Damian, it will be the first time they experience the tour, taking part in their own separate buggy category. Each buggy will be drawn by a dedicated rider with one support rider per team.

Behind the scenes is Deirdré Gower, co-founder of Warrior on Wheels, who got the wheels rolling five years ago when she first applied to the event organisers for permission to tow her son Damian in the tour.

That request was denied but in 2013, through sheer persistence, her dream was realised.

“That year was the first time buggy teams participated in the
35 000-person event. It was a big task for the organisers to come back with a yes after they instituted a number of safety procedures to ensure buggy teams are included and for that we honour them as leaders in inclusion. In that first year there were four other teams in addition to myself and Damian.

“We are excited to give three new children the opportunity to experience the spirit of the Cycle Tour. The support from spectators and other cyclists for the buggy teams is something extraordinary, and for children who otherwise would not be able to participate in an event like this, it is special to be a part of a tour that sees people coming from all over the globe to cycle one of the most beautiful routes in the world, and to hear people cheering for them as they pass by.

“I still feel that Renee Jordaan, former Operations Director of the tour, said it best: ‘They are not the warriors on wheelchairs in the Cycle Tour, they are the warriors on wheels, just like 35 000 other cyclists’ – and this is it, where in their daily lives they struggle with the smallest things we take for granted, on the Cycle Tour they are sharing an iconic event, experiencing our beautiful city in a way that not everyone can, and being part of the spirit and celebration that I feel is unique to the Cape Town Cycle Tour,” said Gower.

Founded in late 2015, the Warrior on Wheels Foundation aims to work with adventure activity service providers in the tourism industry to become more accessible for people of all abilities.

Accessibility to activities is their primary motive and through their efforts they have opened the eyes of the people who they have worked with while simultaneously providing fun and exhilaration for the children they take along to experience these activities.

“Our first adventure was in February 2016 and will most definitely be a special one to remember. We took three differently-abled children and their families ziplining at Ceres Zipslide Adventures.

“Another special memory was when we too”k 14 differently-abled young people river rafting.

“We did a lovely paddle along the Breede River and when we got to a section along one of the banks with a large sand dune, our host, Chris, told us that no matter what it takes, we were getting every single person up to the top of it, and we did.

“All the kids, moms, dads and grannies were helped to the top for a magnificent view of the river. Other adventures we have enjoyed include horse riding, motorbike sidecar rides, seal island boat cruises, a play park visit, and the Junior Cycle Tour.

“Our families have been welcomed, and the activity providers have been more than willing to try something new in the way they operate. We just find big-hearted, kind, giving volunteers wherever we go, and we probably get to experience this part of the human spirit more often than others. It’s about bridging the gap between able-bodied and differently-abled communities,” she said.

Getting ready for the Cycle Tour has been an adventure in and of itself as the riders met up last weekend for their first cycle with their buggy passengers. Only one of the riders has tackled the tour towing a buggy before so for the most part this is a new experience for the majority of parties involved.

A quick spin around the Green Point complex served as a start but come race day there will be a ball of nervous excitement in the stomachs of each and every one of the participants.

“The buggy teams have a special category and start at 6.47am on race day. Each buggy is given a tracking device so that the organisers are able to see where they are on the route at all times.

“In the week leading up to the event, it is compulsory for the buggy teams to attend a safety briefing with the Cycle Tour, where the race doctor advises emergency procedures, exit points, sweeper bus procedures if you don’t make cut off points, medical points and procedures along the route. Otherwise they all participate on the same route and with the same rules as everyone else.

“You often find lots of support up the hills with other cyclists lending a hand and pushing the buggies along.

“The camaraderie on the day is out of this world and there is friendly banter and jokes along the road. It does take longer than cycling without a buggy, so they do spend more time on the road and we also need to stop to make sure the children are comfortable, have enough sunblock, keep hydrated and so on.

“We just want to celebrate the fantastic team of cyclists that we have – they are giving up their rides, their time and their muscles to make this possible for these children.

“Next year we hope to have many more buggies participating, so we’re always calling for people to get involved.

“We’ve also been supported and backed by Cape Town Tourism in this event and promoting universal access in Cape Town.

“It has also been made possible with sponsorships and donations but we do still have branding opportunities for any businesses that would like to get involved and sponsor one of the buggies.

“We’re also creating awareness by launching our “Spot The Buggy” campaign, encouraging spectators who see our buggies on the road to take pics and share them on social media with the hashtag #WOWbuggy.

If you would like to get involved, contact Deirdre at
deirdre@warrioronwheels.co.za or call 078 567 6689. Alternatively, visit their website at
www.warrioronwheels.co.za for more information and links to their social media platforms.