STEEP CLIMB: Songezo Jim’s Cycling Academy in Masiphumelele encourages youth to lead healthy lifestyles, stay away from drugs and alcohol, while giving them opportunities. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - As cycling's stock in the province continues to rise, more people than ever are being inspired to jump in the saddle and test their mettle on two wheels.

That is certainly the case for Masiphumelele’s growing number of young cycling fanatics, who are lucky enough to be mentored by one of South Africa’s finest cyclists, Songezo Jim.

At only 27 years of age, the cyclist is well-known and respected throughout his sporting fraternity.

A personal friend of recent Tour De France champion Geraint Thomas, Jim became the first black rider to complete a Grand Tour, when he completed La Vuelta a España in 2015.

Originally from the Eastern Cape, Jim has been working with Masiphumelele youngsters since 2005.

Thirteen years since his arrival in the township, he now has around 25 cyclists regularly attending his sessions and benefiting from his experiences.

As is the case in many of Cape Town’s poorer areas, temptations around drugs, alcohol and violence often consume the aspirations of many young people.

Jim is committed to leading his team away from these temptations, regardless of the pressure many of his charges face from their peers. “I find that when a friend smokes or does drugs, it’s hard for the guys to say no and leave it alone,” Jim said.

“It’s important for us that we don’t smoke because of the impact on our bodies, which is what I’m teaching (at the academy).”

Jim’s hard work has certainly not gone unrecognised by the young people under his tutelage.

With many of the team excelling in the sport, Jim’s inspiring personality has even led some to dream of a professional cycling career. “He pushes us hard and we want to do well to make him happy,” one team member said, “(A career in professional cycling) is possible for us if we continue working hard.”

Currently training six times a week with a rest day on Mondays, the team is powering through the winter months despite an obvious shortage of funds.

Although the academy is receiving support from Cycling SA, the battle for funding is a continuing challenge for Jim and his team.

“Bikes are so expensive. (Road) Bikes don’t come fully built, you have to buy the parts and piece it together yourself.

“If we want to go to a race, there is entry fees, money for a taxi, food and everything else,” added Sengezo.

If you can assist, Jim can be reached at 073 270 7872.

[email protected]

Cape Argus