French Athletes Claim Victory in South Africa's Outeniqua Wheelchair Marathon
17/02/2009 | 0 comments
Two French athletes who travelled to South Africa to compete in the annual Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge, held on Saturday 14 February in the historic town of George in the Western Cape, have returned home victorious with gold and silver medals.
Denis Lemeunier (pictured, right) was the first to cross the finishing line of the 42.2 km wheelchair marathon in a time of 1:42:48, with his fellow countryman Alain Fuss (pictured, left) coming in a close second in 1:44:29. South African Paralympic hero and world record holder Ernst van Dyk trailed in third after puncturing a wheel on the second lap. Heavy rain in the first part of the race added to the delay for all participants.
The winning marathon athletes were just three of a record 625 disabled competitors who took part in Saturday's race. People had travelled from all nine provinces of South Africa as well as from Namibia and Zimbabwe to attend the extraordinary event, which offers a 21.1 km half marathon, 10 km timed race and 7 km fun race as well as the full marathon. The age range spanned 2 to 95 years and – uniquely – 85 percent of participants were from disadvantaged communities where disability resources are scarce.
Van Dyk commented: "[The race] really reaches people who wouldn't get the chance otherwise".
Brainchild of Esther Watson, who won Woman of the Year in 2006 for her role in promoting the competition, the Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge has been going from strength to strength since its humble beginnings in 2002. Competitors must be disabled and use some kind of mobility assistive device. There are 44 prize categories to take account of differing levels of disability and of the various devices, which include hand cycles, racing wheelchairs and tricycles as well as ordinary chairs.
Among the celebrities supporting this year's Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge were Fanie Lombaard (several times Paralympic gold medallist for South Africa), Breyton Paulse (ex-Springbok rugby player) and actor Neels van Jaarsveld.
After the race: competitors relax and chat while awaiting hearty potjiekos stews and corn cobs.
Text and Photos by Monica Guy.