Howick – Racing at the front of the field of the recent Sappi Howick MTB Classic was fast and furious amongst some of the sport’s local racing snakes however the ‘raw and unplugged mountain biking’ challenge represented an even deeper meaning for one local rider racing some way off the leaders.
22 year old Thami Kunene’s successful completion of the 40km event sparked an huge smile to his face and unique sense of achievement as his journey to the Howick event’s finish line started long before the starters’ gun even fired.
“A friend of mine started cycling before I did but I got into the sport through and just loved it so I bought myself a bike to have some fun on,” explained 22 year old Kunene from Lidgetton in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
“Then I suddenly realized that I could actually do a little bit more than just ride and, because I love extreme things, I wanted to try race!” he added.
The 40km aQuellé Half Marathon at the Sappi Karkloof Classic MTB Festival was Kunene’s first ever competitive cycling outing and, having trained on the local routes previously, the young enthusiast overcame the challenge comfortably and so turned to the Howick clash for a second test.
“The Howick race was much harder than Karkloof,” said Kunene. “My bike is very old and I had some problems with it before the race so I couldn’t train that much plus I hadn’t ever seen the Howick trails before.”
“It was hectic racing but it was so much fun!”
Despite his troubled build-up and the rugged terrain, Kunene shaved almost ten minutes off his Karkloof time at the Sappi Howick MTB Classic and is now eagerly looking for his next adventure.
“I love cycling and I would love to make a career out of it,” said Kunene. “I would love to live my life in the saddle!”
Kunene’s passion and positive attitude are even more remarkable when his struggles, far greater than just a puncture or broken chain, are considered.
“Once Thami started cycling, with a few hand-me-downs and old equipment, he then wanted to race but didn’t have the means to,” explained Kunene’s guardian angel, local photographer and cycling enthusiast Gavin Ryan.
“He’d asked a couple of other riders and a few of the local bike shops for some help with equipment but unfortunately no one really gave him too much support.”
“Knowing a few people in the industry I then tried to help him where I could by leaning on a few contacts I had in the industry and the next thing Sappi gave him some cycling bibs, Howick Cycles did some maintenance on his bike free of charge using the parts given to Thami by members of the Howick MTB Club as well as Big Wheel MTB bike shop and we even got him his entries into the Karkloof and Howick events thanks to the race organisers and sponsors of those!
“We’ve upgraded his bike a bit. He used to have a seven speed bike which we’ve now changed to a seven speed with better shifters, wheels, tyres and even a new fork,” he added.
Kunene is also a budding entrepreneur who sells mosaic creations at the Howick craft market however this young talent is looking to expand his business horizons.
“It’s tough for Thami to compete against the cheaper Chinese imports,” explained Ryan. “So he is looking at the possibility of making trophies, plaques and medals for the mountain biking community.”
“KZN MTB Commission have already shown an interest in possibly using his pieces at their end-of-year awards function and hopefully we can go on to persuade a couple of the event organisers to support a local initiative by allowing Thami to make medals for their races rather than hand out the traditional metal medals that are currently used.”
The 2014 Sappi Howick MTB Classic, incorporating the 19km Greendale SPAR Intermediate race, took place on Sunday 1 June. More info can be found at www.howickmountainbiking.co.za
Source: Gameplan Media