Adventurer dies during bike race

Adventurer John Brand, who once attempted to become the oldest South African to summit Mount Everest, died soon after the start of the Thomas River Mountain Bike Challenge on Saturday.

Brand, 66, who lived in Beacon Bay and built Brands Furnishers into one of Buffalo City’s most successful businesses, collapsed about 600m into the start of the 60km bike race.

According to his business partner Percy Shaw, Brand had a pacemaker fitted about a year ago after taking strain during the Ironman 70.3 triathlon.

“It appears he died from a heart attack,” said Shaw, who described Brand as an innovative businessman with the physique of a 40-year-old.

Thomas River Mountain Bike Challenge organiser John Potter said a fellow participant came across an ailing Brand shortly after the race began.

“He was leaning on his handle bars and said he felt terrible and then he fell over and the ambulance raced to him,” said Potter, adding that the annual race continued because Brand would have wanted it to proceed.

Brand’s close friend of 26 years, Gwyn Bassingthwaighte, was about to start a shorter version of the race when he heard that his friend had collapsed.

“Medics tried to resuscitate him and then the ambulance took him away and I thought they’d sorted him out so I carried on cycling. The organisers told me (of his death) at the end of my cycle and it was a shock.”

Bassingthwaighte, who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with Brand and travelled with him to Alaska, described his friend as a tenacious adventurer and a generous spirit who pushed himself to “serious limits”.

“I don’t know of anyone who didn’t like him. He was quiet, but when you got to know him he was a very solid person. He was always climbing mountains and doing extreme sports.”

Bassingthwaighte said his friend was disappointed when his attempt to summit Mount Everest in 2007 failed. “He was forced to give it up because he had severe altitude sickness.”

Brand made headlines when he set out with three fellow South Africans to stake his claim on Everest. Despite debilitating altitude sickness which led to an 8kg weight loss and painful frostbite, he made it to the saddle of Everest, 7000m above sea level.

Brand joined the business started by his father in 1987 and built it up to a number of branches – one in the CBD, one in Gonubie, two in Vincent and two in King William’s Town.

“We are shocked and devastated. He was not just a colleague but a mentor. Staff loved him because he set high standards but he was always fair.

“We console ourselves by knowing he passed doing what he loved most – cycling in the countryside with close friends and loved ones.”

Brand is survived by his mother, sister and girlfriend and her two children. His funeral will be held at the Nahoon Methodist Church at 12pm on Friday. — barbarah@dispatch.co.za

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