By Geraldine Nicol, Governor of District 9350 (Angola, Namibia, and South Africa)
Despite raging wildfires on its outskirts, which at times came within yards of the city, the City of Cape Town, South Africa, proudly carried on with its planned cycle race earlier this year. The Cape Town Cycle Tour is organized and managed by Rotary clubs in District 9350 in partnership with local riding clubs of the Pedal Power Association. About 37,000 cyclists from around the world registered for what is the world’s largest timed cycle race in its 38th year.
The cycle race had been in major jeopardy, as the mountains of the beautiful Cape Peninsula had suffered from devastating fires in the 10 days preceding the race. Although the wildfires forced the race to be reduced from 103 kilometers to 47 kilometers, and the route to be altered to keep roads open for fire engines, everyone got into the spirit of the event.
Amazingly, 34,000 cyclists, their supportive family members, and huge crowds of onlookers all showed up on race day. There was a wonderful camaraderie between cyclists as Rotarians and members of Pedal Power cleverly decided to dedicate the race to the firefighters who had been battling the blaze and to the survivors of the fire.
No one seemed to mind too much not being able to return on the magnificent Chapman’s Peak Drive along the Atlantic Ocean, which is always a huge attraction. All just wanted to be part of the show of support. Many cyclists really got into the act and wore firefighter hats on top of their cycling helmets and T-shirts emblazoned with the word “thanks,” as a show of solidarity and support. At each water station the cyclists were greeted by tired but relieved and delighted firefighters, just relaxing and enjoying the amazing spirit of support and gratitude that this “Ride in Solidarity with the Firemen” created.
Many cyclists enjoyed the race more than usual, because this time it was not a race against time, just participation in a wonderful cause. It provided more fellowship and more awareness of nature. It also reminded all of us of what we have to be thankful for, and especially of our huge appreciation of the role of the firefighters, without whom our beautiful Cape Peninsula would have been smoking ashes of ruined homes and mountains.
I was fortunate to hear two different groups of volunteer firefighters talk at two different Rotary clubs after the fire, and they were completely awed by Rotary’s support and commitment. It has helped the volunteer firefighters raise awareness of their own services to communities and also impressed upon them that their incredible commitment to keeping others safe is very much appreciated.
The 2015 Cycle Tour will go down as a very special year in the 38 years we have been organizing the race. Instead of being the ride that was canceled due to disaster, it went down as a “Ride in Solidarity” with the brave men and women who keep us safe. And what a plus it was for Rotary and for our public relations!