DELORIS KOAN | Grandads burn brighter to light the way for all the kids

Grandads Army stalwarts on the 2023 Eyabantwana Heritage Ride reach the sunny banks of the Oliphants River on Thursday. They are from left Stephen Keet, William Hirst, road captain Randall Leendertz, Prof Colin Lazarus, Gerald Berlyn, James Armstrong, Dr John-Michael Lazarus, and Brian Katz.
THE BEST DAY: Grandads Army stalwarts on the 2023 Eyabantwana Heritage Ride reach the sunny banks of the Oliphants River on Thursday. They are from left Stephen Keet, William Hirst, road captain Randall Leendertz, Prof Colin Lazarus, Gerald Berlyn, James Armstrong, Dr John-Michael Lazarus, and Brian Katz.

I am moeg. Let nobody dare say the Eyabantwana Heritage Ride is an excuse to enjoy tourism. I have been with these ballies for eight days, four of them as a support crew in the front passenger seat one of the buses.

I can tell you, as an eyewitness, those cyclists nodded off during our one of two game drives in Kruger Park. In fact, two in our bus dozed: I was one of them.

The team is coming up to the 500 kilometre mark in the 1,500km route march home to Slums. Just one third of the way into this monster, and there has been one rider benched. Others have blown tyres, tubes, and shoes.

One had laundry issues. It is not easy growing old, but I have heard from a few riders about how fantastic it is to age in the saddle!

Brian Katz, 75, a former aviator and businessman, is straight to the point: he was 30kg heavier and looked bloated before he connected with Grandads Army, pulled his bike from storage and away he went!

His dietary advice is a blunt instrument: “You have to throw the switch. Now.”

I then got the apple, 100g of protein, no more sugar etc. advice.

All the riders, aged 55 to 81, are in shape and looked good until now. I have seen their suffering, faces blotched and red, wind, rain and sun blasted -- though by now a extra wrinkle or two is a non-issue. That race has been run.

I love the Charles Bronson look. Give me these guys in a Discovery advert anytime, rather than those shiny, silver-haired, perfectly toned, “young-looking” pretenders.

My crew of G-Dads are gutsy and real. They are tired all the time, it's the degree that matters. Tendons in their knees are complaining, and one oke was so dehydrated he was in a zombie state at supper.

But come 6am tomorrow they will be back at their seat posts, medically approved by the team doc, their bottles filled with electrolyte drinks, plastered in suncream, and ready for their fifth 100km day.

They are a living metaphor of the battle to come: the Eyabantwana Trust wants to build a fantastic stand-alone children's hospital in East London and until then, renovate wards at Frere and dedicate these to paediatric patients.

Community trusts are becoming the smart way for communities to bypass bureaucratic, tardy, processes and get children's hospitals going.

Cape Town's respected Red Cross Children's Hospital has a huge trust and the money hits the right spot.

These bigger projects for the Eyabantwana Trust are going to need grit and wile. And endurance – all of it on display in this fundraiser hell ride.

Honestly, if this ride did not have a higher purpose, I would happily call it a wanton act of self-flagellation.

But it certainly does have a sublime calling: these okes are turning up the flame high as they can so as to light the way for their children  and grandchildren's generations.They don't say this outright, but it slips out when they talk about the “mission”, and in their “prayers for journey's mercies” there is always a reference to “doing this for the children”.

So, like travelling to the National Arts Festival, or Stade de France for the Rugby World Cup final, the Eyabantwana Heritage Ride is indeed a pilgrimage.

In our trashy, cancel culture, anti-democracy phase in SA, the “mission” brings a new meaning to us clawing our way out of this abysmal system one point at a time.In our cycling story, every new day can feel like a one-point victory. These guys have battled giant trucks, speeding morons, potholes, and main roads with no yellow lines.

For riders and the little caravan of support vehicles, it has been a knife-edge struggle, but one which is fought by the gladdest of hearts.

Safety is a mantra – red flags and hazards flashing – this is an epic battle of good versus bad. There are many good souls who toot us on, and little acts of kind support behind the scenes.

People respond to this campaign. South Africans immediately and intuitively recognise that these old farts are resisting in the most positive way – by creating new, healthier alternatives. This is how we want it to be. No sitting on our sofas waiting to die in front of dstv. They are out there giving a lusty shout, defying crushing prejudice, discrimination and casual cruelty, for the children in need of surgery, and for all the children of the battered and abused Eastern Cape and SA.

This is indeed a barmy army, but it is also a place of extreme kindness and intelligence. Getting around the ogres of conservatism and their reactionary institutional violence is not a skirmish for sissies.

This is, I think I am right in my theological lesson from Rodney Offord, the battle of the Old Testament stories, versus those of the New Testament. And this crew wants the new to win out.

So into the brutality and chaos we go tomorrow, holding onto the dream for our children and keeping the words of our gentle 80-year-old legendary paediatrician on a red bicycle ringing in our ears “No fatalities!”

In the words of Offord:"Contributions are coming in to the  Eyabantwana For the Children Trust, an independent non-profit trust established to support the work of the Eastern Cape Paediatric Surgical Services based at the East London Hospitals.

“If you would like to make a donation of any amount to Eyabantwana you can do an EFT to Eyabantwana, Nedbank Branch 198765 (Beacon Bay) Account No 1138181366 or use the QR code.



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