PRETORIA – Sandile Shange gets shivers down his spine as he remembers last year’s Discovery Triathlon.
“Phew, I remember just how cold the water was,” he laughs. “We were not allowed to warm up so we went straight into the water. I am a Durbanite and am used to the warm water we have here; the Cape Town water was way too cold.
“But once I was in the water for a little longer I got into my stride and in the end it was great fun.”
It was watching the professionals, however, that left a massive impression on the 36-year-old.
“I saw their times and I was in awe. I was inspired and motivated to come back and work hard on improving my times too. I don’t think the margin between us and them is too big and if we can be dedicated and work on the swim in the open water then some day, who knows?”
With coach Glen Gore by his side he believes the sky is the limit.
“Before I met Glen, all I knew was cycling and running. He entered us into competition and while it was hard at first and a bit confusing, one eventually got the hang of this triathlon business,” he explains.
Triathlon is an expensive sport but the rewards beat the costs.
“It teaches discipline. You need to spend a lot of time practising and you have to practice the disciplines daily. Glen has got us reading Triathlon Plus magazine just so we know what the other pros are doing out there.
He also gets the samples (of cycling shoes and attire) and gives them to us because he understands just how expensive the sport can be. Glen understands us as people, he’s like a father to us.”
In their townships, Shange and his fellow participant and friend Mhlengi Gwala are seen as different.
“In our communities, they view us as white people,” he laughs. “It is all because we do these very expensive sports that are not really common among black people. But over time we’ve also become role models for many kids. There are plenty of youngsters who aspire to be lifeguards like us and who always ask us about triathlon.
“Now many youngsters in the townships no longer look up to the criminals as we did when we were younger, but they look up to us. I’m just glad that in a small way we are showing them they can get away from that flashy life of criminals which is very short.
“We go to schools and give talks about what lifeguards do and we teach them about beach awareness. That way we also introduce them to triathlon and make the kids realise there’s no such thing as a sport for white or black people anymore.”