We worked together to overcome fears and gain a sense of living

By MARK KEOHANE Time of article published Apr 18, 2019

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Gill's done the Sanlam Open Mile swim and the Cape Town Cycle Tour. Her bucket list now includes the Impi 10km, 18-obstacle challenge in Stellenbosch.

Was I game? How could I say “No”? We needed to complete a quartet to make a team. I got my son, Ollie, involved and Gill roped in her friend, Natalie. Excuse the liberal use of the cliché “roped” but on the day it would be applicable with many of the obstacles testing one’s relationship with rope. 

This was a test of the mind as much as of upper body strength. Stellenbosch’s mountain range is always a spectacular sight, but when you are going up there a few times and confronting combat-style obstacles, the view is more blur than brilliance. 

Many would say this is a challenge only for adventure seekers. Not so. It’s a way to break down fears, understand the essence of teamwork and appreciate the strength of the human spirit. Elite athletes work towards time. 

The rest of us mortals simply work towards a finish. This isn’t a challenge about individual glory but about what is possible as a collective. Each of us was stronger in different disciplines – equally, more vulnerable when it came to hanging, height, climbing and balance. 

The trail run, all 10km, was a race on its own. Add natural and constructed obstacles that included walls, crawls, tyre walls, cargo crossing and lily pads across water, and you get a sense of how the mind and body had to combine to turn terror (for some of us) into triumph. The best of the elite males, Brackenfell’s Danie Rossouw, finished the challenge in one hour, two minutes and two seconds. 

The fastest female was Durbanville’s Ashleigh Singers, in one hour, 32 minutes and 52 seconds. These times are exceptional, but that isn’t a reflection of what the Impi challenge is about. For the masses in the field of 2 000-plus, the times range between two and three hours because it’s not about the times but about getting every one in each respective team over, under and through each obstacle. As with the Open Mile swim, I was again inspired at how many shapes, sizes and ages lined up to tackle the Stellenbosch mountains. 

There was the Impi Mini one kilometre eight-obstacle course for children between 6 and 10. The Impi Dash, for those 10 years and older, was 5km and 11 obstacles. Then there was the big one, the 10km, 18-obstacle challenge, with a corporate variation for those companies who use the Impi as a team-building exercise. I’d opted not to do my research as to the identity of the 18 obstacles. 

In hindsight, it was a mental master stroke because if I had seen the obstacles on video a day beforehand, I probably never would have made it to Stellenbosch on race day. Our team approach was to beat the course on instinct, adrenalin and as much help as we could get from each other. 

My strategy relied on Ollie’s 19-year-old shoulders and upper body strength to help his old man over more than the odd obstacle. Gill and Natalie showed me up with technique and Gill’s sense of humour eased my momentary fear freeze when airborne an uncomfortable distance from the ground. 

Gill would have her own moment when time stands still and you’re way up in the sky, with just rope separating you from a dramatic fall to the ground – a moment, she said afterwards, that felt like a lifetime. But it’s conquering that fearful moment that gives one a sense of a life lived. 

And in Stellenbosch, last Saturday, I really felt like I was living, even if for a few days afterwards my body felt as if it was dying. 

Keohane is an award-winning sports journalist and the head of sport at Independent Media


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