It is Wednesday afternoon, five days after the last batch of RASA 2022 arrived at Diemersfontein to earn their blankets. All support stations are closed until October when the Summer RASA takes place. Thanks to you all and a warm welcome in particular to the new support stations Two Springs and Rhodes Hotel. You both did a great job, as did every support station. We also pause to remember the contribution made over many years by Charles and the late Sheila Raven of Glen Edward. You are us.
Every rider is by now home safe and sound. Mike Woolnough wrote a wonderfully nostalgic piece a few days back that spoke eloquently of the sudden silence in the mountains and valleys until such time as they “once again hear the clatter of bikes” when the riders return.
For many, aside from the mud, this year’s RASA will be remembered for a number of events that reminded us only too vividly of the ethos of the Freedom Challenge. The real reasons as to why we keep coming back to a race and community that means so much for so many of us. The trials in Stettynskloof of then race leader Bruce Biccard and his subsequent voice message serve as a lesson to us all. Bruce “failed’. No blanket. But he failed with honor and in so doing earned (if he hadn’t already) the everlasting respect of this community. “I am fine and content”, his words and deeds will not be easily forgotten.
It has become a tradition over the years to briefly report on some of the statistics of the current race and also on an overall basis, statistics since RASA was first held in 2004. I’ll keep the format similar to that of the closing report of 2021, in an attempt to keep all our traditionalists (35% of the Freedom Challenge community) happy. Nobody likes an upset traditionalist.
So here goes:
34 out of 55 starters earned their blankets (2021: 36 out of 55). The withdrawal rate of around 38% is even higher than last year, the last two years having the highest percentage of dropouts since the inception of RASA. Last year it was the incessant winds before Rhodes, this year the liquid mud after Rhodes.
To date a total of 475 blankets (average 25 per year) have been earned by 318 unique riders (average 16.7 per year).
Podium positions men (and overall):
Enslin Uys (14 days 7 hours) Rowan Matthews (14 days 10 hours) Mark Basel (16 days 9 hours)
Podium positions women:
Dawn Bell (21 days 10 hours) Ingrid Avidon (21 days 13 hours)/Omphile Joy (21 days 13 hours)
Joining the clubs of:
5 blankets: Adrian Payne, Brad van der Westhuizen and Gawie du Plessis (Nigel and Adrian Payne becoming the first siblings to achieve at least 5 blankets each, Nigel getting his sixth this year)
Sub 15 days: Enslin Uys (Rowan achieved his third sub 15 days this year)
New blanket wearers (20, thus bringing the total number of unique blanket holders to 318): Omphile Joy, Rebecca Sands, Quinton Rutherford, Jeremy Steere, Paul Moxley, Graham Denny, Matt (Chief Pet Herder) Denny, Janine Oosthuizen, Nienke van Schaik, Andreas Diacom, Andrew Seltzkom, Gerald Holland, John Barrow, Paul Arnott, Michael Patchitt, Adriaan Giessing, Justin Bark, Chris Mortimer, Peter Roux and Enslin Uys. Congratulations to you all.
Father and son finishers – Graham and Matt Denny (with the added bonus of another son Rupert joining for the RTP section, very special to see the three of them together)
26 finishers, including 16 riders who were doing RASA but dropped out after Rhodes. The latter riders nevertheless earned their whips.
Men: Carlo Gonzaga (3 days and 10 hours) Women: Beth McLeod (6 days and 9 hours)
13 finishers (the entire field).
Men : Charl van der Spuy (3 days and 18 hours ) Women: Eloise Biggs (5 days and 13 hours)
The volunteer support to Chris and Julia continues to evolve. Growing numbers of the Freedom community voluntarily help out in a variety of ways, whether it be through buffalo herding, report writing, medical support, FC marketing (giving presentations), fund raising for the Scholarship fund and much other unheralded assistance. It is a privilege to give back in some way to this community.
The Report Writers welcomed Charles van der Spuy to our ranks. The Buffalo Herders were joined by blanket holders Pierre Singery and Craig Mackrory as well as FC stalwarts Mark and Nicky McLeod. We had a particularly challenging year as regards the medical side of things and our thanks as always to Grant Lindsay for the admirable service he gives to us.
The project of the Freedom Artist, Bruce Backhouse, is progressing nicely. The 20th anniversary of the Freedom Challenge is now only one year away and Bruce’s output will provide a wonderful focal point around which we can have one of the many events to properly celebrate this anniversary, over and above the significant likely injection into the Scholarship Fund from the proceeds from the sale of his Freedom art.
It was wonderful to see founder David Waddilove at the finish in Diemersfontein, handing out blankets and reminding us of the origins of this magnificent race. Dave very kindly offered, in true FC tradition, to paddle with Ingrid Avidon in her ultimately unsuccessful attempt to complete the XTC Freedom triathlon (Comrades, RASA, and Berg). Ingrid had to pull out on day 2 of Berg, a bit sad (Ingrid is by nature very cheerful) but determined to come back next year to try again. She is currently in negotiations with her chief sponsor to this extent. A very brave effort indeed given her novice status as a canoeist.
Lastly our thanks go once again to Chris and Julia Fisher who continue to successfully lead and run the smorgasbord of Freedom Challenge events. Under their leadership during their tenure the Freedom Challenge continues to evolve. Field sizes have returned to, even exceeded, pre COVID levels. The Freedom Challenge brand truly benefits from the wonderful and wide coverage across a multitude of social media platforms (many people to thank here, in particular our very professional photographer Llewellyn Lloyd). Julia Fisher has emerged as a rising celebrity on the back of her audio race report clips.
Nonetheless we cannot be complacent and there is a growing realization that the medium to long term sustainability of the Freedom Challenge is under threat if the Freedom Challenge continues to rely solely on rider entry fees as the main source of income. To this extent an initiative is currently underway to assess the viability of alternative/additional funding. It is wonderful to experience the offers of help from within our community to develop and implement the most appropriate strategy in this regard, whilst at the same time protecting the values of the Freedom Challenge.
Enjoy the hiatus. Happy riding. I really hope I haven’t forgotten anyone. If so, please feel free to shine the spotlight where appropriate