Ben Saunders: cyclist who rode against all odds
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CAPE TOWN - Late Worcester sports pioneer, Ben Saunders, was celebrated at a memorial service this week, as a passionate sportsman who continued to give back to his community.
Saunders, who died on Monday aged 87, was honoured at a memorial service at the Calvyns Protestant Church on Wednesday.
He will be laid to rest following a funeral service at the Esselenpark Stadium on Sunday.
Overcoming the odds during apartheid, Saunders competed in competitive cycling in the 1960s and 1970s, and was crowned the national sprint champion.
He was the only cyclist in Worcester to compete at the A-Games in Pretoria in 1964.
Saunders was honoured as a Provincial Sport Legend in 2018 by the Department of Cultural Affairs in Sport in recognition of his contribution to the sporting landscape of the province.
He was also one of the founding members of the Young Hamiltons Rugby Football Club in Worcester and he supported the club as a life-long member.
He never missed a local rugby match and he encouraged young players to pursue their rugby dreams.
Young Hamiltons Rugby Football Club member and ex-chair, Charles Beukes, described Saunders as a humble man.
He said Saunders would have to practice his cycling under the cover of night on the only suitable local track in Worcester that was for whites only.
When the Young Hamiltons Rugby Football Club was started, Saunders’ mother would bake cakes which the players would sell to raise money for the club.
The club has since gone on to produce many Boland players, Beukes said.
“He was such a modest person, nobody would have known that Oom Ben was a founder of the club,” Beukes said.
“He always would give other people recognition, he would never speak about ‘I’, he would always talk about ‘us’,” Beukes said, adding that Saunders’ achievements laid the foundation for an inspired generations of cyclists and local sports people.
“He is now the upteenth person that we have to lay to rest, that we couldn’t give the proper recognition before they passed on,” Beukes said.
In a statement, the Villagers Worcester Rugby Club management, players and supporters expressed their condolences to the family, friends and Young Hamilton Rugby Football Club.
“May Uncle Ben's soul rest in eternal peace.”
The provincial government said Saunders was one of the early champions for sport in the province and his legacy will live on for years to come.
Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC Anroux Marais said: “Ben was a true example of a passionate sportsman.
“While he competed in cycling during a time when he had to overcome a lot of obstacles, he also continued supporting the development and growth of young sporting talent in his community.
“I applaud his life-long commitment to sport in our province.”
Saunders leaves his wife Grace, four children and grandchildren.