The 16th Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge (OCC), a race exclusively for disabled athletes, will be presented in George by the Disabled Road Race Foundation (DRRF) on Sunday, 18 February 2018.
Ernst van Dyk, South Africa’s most successful disabled athlete in wheelchair racing and hand cycling, will again be taking part in this highlight on the sports calendar for athletes living with a disability.
“The OCC is unique since it is the only race of its kind on the South African sports calendar for people with disabilities,” said Van Dyk, who has been taking part in every OCC since its inception in 2001.
Van Dyk regards the OCC as an important event to prepare for the rest of his international programme for 2018.
“The Dubai Marathon late in January, the first event of the year, will give me an indication of my form. If I need to adapt my training programme, I will be able to measure the success thereof during the OCC.”
The Tokyo Marathon follows shortly after the OCC. “The Tokyo Marathon is very important to me and the OCC will play a critical role in giving me an indication whether I am on the right path to win in Tokyo.”
He also hopes to win the title for the 11th time in the Boston Marathon in April.
Van Dyk believes the OCC can play an important role in motivating young disabled athletes. “The OCC offers beginners an opportunity to compete with the best disabled athletes in the world. Such exposure in a young athlete’s career can be of great importance as it can create the dream of international fame.”
Over the years, Van Dyk has experienced many highs – and lows – during the OCC. “It was definitely a highlight when the OCC managed to get a top international disabled athlete like Kurt Furnley to participate. For me it was a highlight to participate with the best in the world on home ground – a dream that I shared with the late Esther Watson, founder of the OCC.” He hopes that the OCC will in future attract major sponsors to offer prize money to entice international athletes of that calibre.
But there were also frustrations, such as having a flat tyre. “It is always a disappointment if one has trained so hard, and then has a flat tyre. But there is nothing to be done with it – your turn is your turn, as they say, but that is never fun.”
He has seen the OCC change over the years, and regards it as different seasons in the development of the event. “In the beginning, we were only 27 athletes who started off high up in the Outeniqua Pass and just hoped we survived to the end.”
Over time, the number of participants has increased to more than 1 000. “That is remarkable. At times there were not enough sponsors, putting the future of the OCC in the balance, but the organisers always managed to make it happen.”
He believes the OCC is an increasingly important item on the calendar of disabled athletes in Africa. “They are also regarding the OCC as a highlight of their annual sporting calendar.”
As with all sports codes, sponsors are the main key to success. “Without sponsors, there will be no race. I believe the race is moving in the right direction by appointing a dedicated team to organise a professional race, which would also not have been possible without sponsors. We are very thankful to them.”