Wobbly but unbowed, Grandads Army soldiers on

Endless hills on road from Barberton to Carolina take their toll on East London men on a mission to care for the children

The octogenarian and two septuagenarian grandads finally wobbled, got off their bicycles, and walked.

Prof Colin Lazarus, 80, the paediatrician legend and leader of the 1,500km Eyabantwana for the Children Trust’s Heritage Ride, was finally defeated by the endless hills on the road from Barberton to Carolina.

He had done about 600km in six astounding days of cycling from Mapungubwe on our northern border, but today the barrier of hills, the heat and overall exhaustion finally conquered his mind.

He started losing consciousness, called it, and got on the bus.

That was Saturday. Come Sunday, he and his eight compadres, almost 468 years old as a collective, were back in the saddle for a long, high-pressure day of negotiating the Free State’s coal-truck ripped up roads.

Sections between Bethel and Standerton would mean loading and offloading the bicycles onto their East London-designed and constructed multi-bike trailer. This was to be a day of rack, unrack, rack!

From Standerton, the day’s 100km would have been clocked and from there it was a bumpy, swerving hell ride to Clarens — in the buses!

Clarens is the halfway mark at 725km on day seven of the 15-day marathon for these staunch, mission-focused ballies.

One of the two septuagenarians, never-say-die former chopper pilot Brian Katz, 75, said he was wobbly “but not woozy”.

Jimbo Armstrong, 71, slumped into his chair at the modestly priced but beautifully upscaled Victorian stone Lala-Lapha guest house, and pronounced in a slow, folksy way that he was wobbly, woozy, and just “knackered”! 

But not too knackered to stroll into town and pick up a quart of cold beer ...

Team doctor Mia Elsen, who is taking daily urine samples and weighing the grampas and dads, told him firmly: “You need to drink more water!”

By Sunday morning, she said the team’s condition was good to go.

Their heartbeats were “perfect!” Dehydration was the main concern.

In their Saturday evening catch-up, Lazarus was back in form, urging the army to keep up the pace in doing their transitions.

If they were tardy in racking and the day got away from them, he would be calling it — in the buses and on to Clarens.

This ride would not end the day in the dark, he said in a typically calm, professorial and terrifying tone.

Even the troops whose eyes he saw drooping perked up.

In a touching message of farewell, Lazarus’s son, Cape Town Red Cross Children’s Hospital paediatric surgeon Prof John-Michael Lazarus, spoke of the inspiration he had drawn from the many hours behind the handlebars with the doughty East London men on their mission to care for the children.

In a chance encounter, Colin Lazarus was interviewed by SABC Radio Ikwekwezi FM’s acting programme manager and gospel star, Bathabile Skhosana.

She was on her way to a massive “All White” DJ concert which pumped into the early hours.

Skhosana was in awe of Lazarus’s mission for impoverished, vulnerable children. The Ndebele language station has 1.7-million listeners.

By Sunday at 6am sharp, the Grandads Army was back on the road to weave its way through the potholes and thick carbon dioxide fumes of Eskom’s coal-burning power station towers at Tutuka.

It was a sunny day with violent thunderstorms expected for 30% to 60% of the ride area.

Contributions are coming in to the Eyabantwana For the Children Trust, an independent nonprofit 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.



Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.