The South African mountain bike community is in shock after learning of the serious injury sustained in a freak accident by Erik Schipper, the owner and trailbuilder at Van Gaalen Cheese Farm, a popular mountain biking trails venue at Skeerpoort, near Hartebeespoort Dam.
By Sean Badenhorst
Schipper (56) has broken his neck (C6 and C7 vertebrae). He underwent surgery in Krugersdorp on Tuesday night and the prognosis isn’t promising as he is paralysed from chest down. He will begin rehabilitation later this week.
Schipper was found on Monday night by his son Victor, who went searching for his dad when he didn’t arrive home for dinner and wasn’t answering his phone.
“My dad finished a mountain bike ride and then attended a CrossFit class I was instructing just down the road from our home at 18h00. After the class he hopped on his bike to ride home (about 600 metres). We were waiting for him at dinner but he never pitched. Knowing my dad, I was convinced he had gone to go check fires on the trails or something along those lines. After a few unanswered phone calls I started feeling uneasy and my instinct was to start looking for him,” explained Victor.
“I must have driven past him twice with the bakkie in the dark. Eventually I returned home. I got out the car and in the distance, I heard calls. At first I thought it was a sheep that my men had left behind in the camp. After a few minutes I heard the faint calls for help again. I broke into a sprint towards the gate, shouting for him all the way.”
He was about 10 metres from our property entrance. He said that he was blinded by a car’s headlights and had hit a stormwater drain and crashed. He was uncomfortably positioned on the ground next to his bike. He didn’t have a scratch on him. It was freezing cold and the thought of him lying there for an hour in the dark really troubles me. While making calls to my mom and the emergency services, I rubbed his legs and he couldn’t feel anything,” recalled Victor.
Schipper is widely known among mountain bikers from around South Africa for his stimulating trails network, which he established and maintains. It’s combination of steep gradients, varying surfaces, high percentage of flowing singletrack and distance have earned it the label of ‘proper mountain biking’.
The location of Van Gaalen (less than an hour’s drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria) make it a popular venue for mountain bikers in those cities. Van Gaalen has also played host to a number of mountain bike events, including the South African marathon championships in 2015. It hosts Round 5 of the Ashburton Investments National Series this Saturday.
“Erik Schipper is one of Gauteng’s original trail builders and his trails at Van Gaalen are still among my favourite trails in the country. Erik proved to many mountain bikers that you don’t have to travel far to find good riding and it is for this reason that we love the Van Gaalen trails and use them for some of our events each year,” said Fritz Pienaar, Director of Advendurance events company.
“I hope the participants at this Saturday’s Ashburton Investments National MTB Series event will appreciate all the hard work that Erik has put into those trails over the past decade. I’m sure I’m speaking on behalf of the whole mountain bike community when I wish Erik a speedy and full recovery,” added Pienaar.
“I have known Erik for as long as I have been mountain biking, which is almost 20 years. I first met him when he was an active squash player and then found out he was building mountain bike trails near Harties. We immediately went to check them out and have been riding there regularly ever since,” said Craig Wapnick, Race Director of the Old Mutual joBerg2c.
Erik’s passion for life and booming personality makes him one of the most likeable fellas on the planet. I wish Erik and his family all the courage in the world to get through this. In our eyes, he is Erik the Viking!” added Wapnick.
“My dad is the toughest guy I know. This kind of thing only happens to people that have the ability to face it. I’m not sure exactly what the future holds for my dad as it’s all still very fresh, but I know that it is going to be huge challenge. I’d like to thank the mountain bike community for all the prayers, thoughts and offers to help. It’s really appreciated,” added Victor.
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