Wholly disabled team a Cape Epic first
Van Gass, 32, a retired member of the British Armed Forces Parachute Regiment, sustained life-changing injuries in a rocket-propelled grenade explosion during his second tour of Afghanistan in 2009.
“I always had a passion for the military, but by the time I was of age I didn’t find the South African military up to scratch, so, being part of the Commonwealth, I found out I could go and serve the British.
“I went through the basic training and was deployed, and then I had my injury and suffered the loss of a third of my muscles and tissue, a fractured knee and ankle and a collapsed lung.”
Van Gass and Croxford will set off on Sunday, aiming to finish the race and test their abilities against the world’s best. “I always had an interest in the Epic, so I e-mailed the organisers last year and they liked our story.
“They’ve had disabled participants in the past, but they always had an able-bodied teammate, so we’re the first team with both members being disabled.”
Both men had to learn how to ride mountain bikes and weren’t able to train properly because of the uconducive training conditions in England.
Croxford, 32, said it would be a challenge for the pair and they would have to work well in areas where the bikes had to be carried because Van Gass only has one arm and Croxford is weaker in his right leg.
While serving in Afghanistan, Croxford also sustained injuries that included shattering both his feet and eventually losing his right leg below the knee after further complications. Determined to rejoin the military, Van Gass underwent 11 operations and intense levels of rehabilitation.
“I was purely thinking of getting back, and I thought I’d be able to get some sort of prosthetic to hold a rifle again. I didn’t once think that it might be the case that I’m not able to continue... because what jobs could I do when I couldn’t even hold a box?” he said.
After coming to terms with leaving the military, Van Gass decided to test his abilities and learnt how to ski. “I thought if I could do this, I can do other things, and did a marathon in Kenya and some cycling, and after seeing the London Olympics, I became inspired to concentrate on cycling.”
He narrowly missed out on the Great Britain cycling team for the Rio 2016 Olympics, but being able to join Prince Harry on an expedition to the North Pole last year certainly made up for it. Van Gass is also a double gold medal winner at the Invictus Games and a member of the Great Britain Para-Cycling team.
The Absa Cape Epic finishes on March 24.