This triumphant African first was hard fought, as media personality Liezel van der Westhuizen and blind fellow cyclist Cindy Jacobs tandem bicycled over the famous Himalayas from Mandali to Khardung La in India last month.
The pair battled the elements of wind, rain, sleet and sub-zero temperatures whilst being severely challenged by every imaginable technical problem.
They covered the mean distance of 550 kilometres in 10 days at altitudes of up to 18 330 feet (5,58 kilometres).
Liezel describes it as that ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ event that cyclists around the world dream of.
The expedition starts at Manali, which is known as the door to the heaven of the Himalayas, the route takes you cross five passes with a maximum altitude of 5602 meters reached at Khardung La (in the Ladakh region of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is one of the world's highest roads.)
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Both being extremely passionate about philanthropy, Van der Westhuizen and Jacobs had decided to use the event to raise funds for two medical charities namely Operation Smile South Africa and OneSight. The former is dedicated to providing free surgery to children and adults born with cleft lip and/or cleft palate, while the latter provides refractive error services and prescription spectacles to people without access to affordable vision care.
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“Cycling this distance on some of the highest roads in the world, is a daunting challenge, especially because the roads are non-existent at some places, and you have to be physically and mentally prepared to complete it,” sys Van der Westhuizen.
What further sets the event aside, is the fact that it allows for participation of visually impaired and other physically challenged athletes. The event was organised by Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundations with the aim to promote inclusion by enabling Persons with Disability and able bodied people to participate in Adventure Sports together.
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They stayed in tents along the way with limited access to water for showers and wore a proudly South African sports wool brand (Core Merino) that protected them against all the elements.
Some of the technical problems the women had to endure included Liezel’s ‘camelback’ (water backpack she carries for nutrition) breaking, her left-hand cycling glove being blown away and everything getting wet – all on day one.
On the second day Cindy contracted a bad eye infection, followed by the tandem’s left crank breaking on day 3 which meant they had to walk a far distance before they had access to technical assistance. A crank from a spare bicycle was fitted to their tandem to aid them with their finish.
On subsequent days Liezel battled a stomach bug, their bicycle brakes stopped working due to the altitude, and on the final day of cycling the screw on Liezel’s seat post that held Cindy’s handlebar to the tandem broke off.
They had to walk the final two kilometres to the top of Khardung La on the highest motorable road in the world. But ultimately they made it and perseverance for a worthy cause endured.
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People can still make donations to their fundraising efforts:
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