My journey through life has seen me be privileged to share conversations and moments with so many people who have inspired my life and so many of my heroes growing up. As Paul Wesselhoft aptly said, “That for a time on earth I was privileged, To walk among the giants.” This poem makes me think of the giants I have been privileged to walk alongsied and one man sticks out taller than others. That giant in my life is The Stoff. The story of Unogwaja is well written on this blog and the inspiration I have gained from John McInroy is immeasurable. But today the story is about the unsung hero of the Unogwaja and of my own life, that is of John’s dad, Chris “The Stoff” McInroy. If you are fortunate enough to spend 10 minutes with this man, you will be better off for it. And on that note it is an absolute honour to share with you a chat I had with Stoff about all things Unogwaja.
Jabu: The Unogwaja Challenge is an emotionally rewarding, but also exhausting experience, what brings you back each year?
Stoff: To answer this question you need to understand how I got involved in the beginning. About six years ago I got a phone call from John saying he and three others were going to cycle from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg in ten days and then run Comrades. Needless to say I was a little surprised but thinking it was “organised”, I said “yes” when he asked me to head up the support crew. I flew in to Cape Town a week before the start and had arguably the toughest experience of my life. There was no manual to guide us, there were no similar experiences I had in my life to fall back on. Nothing but unchartered territory every minute of the day. There was no debate I had to come back and see how we could do it better, how we could build it into the special event it is today. The rest is history!
Stoff: I am incredibly excited as this is the culmination of over five years of hard work and means the impact from Unogwaja can be spread far and wide across the country. John has a passion and is driven to make a real difference in other people’s lives and now is in a position to do this. The prime focus of our charity will be to focus on improving and expanding primary school education for as many as possible throughout South Africa. To give people the best possible start in life despite all the hardships they face is the only way to give everyone a chance to better themselves and this is the only way forward if we are to build a fairer and better country. I stress we don’t want to give people “charity” but rather help them to be able to provide for themselves.
Jabu: You have raised a fine son in John, how proud are you as a father?
Stoff: I am indeed as proud of him as any father would want to be of his son! Sons learn much from their fathers but I have been lucky to learn a lot from him. His determination to a cause, his love to help people, his ability to dream, his vision and passion have no equal. He can inspire people at all levels in a way I have not witnessed before.
Jabu: What is the toughest part of the Unogwaja for you?
Stoff: In the beginning when it was unchartered territory in everything we did, this was tough to say the least. Now it is much “easier”. However the safety issue on the road remains a real pressure and one cannot drop one’s guard at any time. This is tough and a big responsibility to bear.
Stoff: Every year is different and this is what helps making Unogwaja so exciting and challenging. This year I think we have a very well-balanced team with 5 from overseas (USA, Brazil, UK, Canada and Australia) and 4 ladies in the team. To think most have not met each other and will come together and complete this incredible challenge is hard still for me to get my mind around. This year’s captain Nat, is also an inspiration to us all. Born and brought up in Soweto and a real example of what anybody in the country can achieve. I am honoured to be at his side this year.
I must also make mention of the support crew. The unsung heroes who do so much to make the Challenge possible. Having been on the crew for two years, Jabu, you will know what I mean! This year we have another incredible crew with two coming from overseas. I just wish we had places for all those that have applied and want to come with us.
Jabu: It has been an honour serving on the support crew these past years and something I will miss immensely this year. Lets step away from Unogwaja quickly, you are also the Director of Hockey at Exeter University, how has the past year gone for you and your teams?
Stoff: After many years of success at all levels last year was a tough year and the end of a long run of success. A new cycle has started and this year is very much one of rebuilding and putting new foundations in place. I am pleased with the way things have gone and the final few months of the season should be interesting! perhaps ask me the question then! Fortunately I am not a football manager or else I probably would have been fired!
Stoff: Unogwaja teaches so many lessons at so many levels but if I had to single out one it would be “you can do it.” With hard work and belief anything is possible. Don’t be scared to dream, to set the bar high but then put in the work and effort to achieve this.
Jabu: And what does ShoOops mean to you?
Stoff: ShoOops is an expression that you cannot narrowly define . It is what you want it to mean from a form of greeting to an expression of elation. Just say it !
Jabu: Lastly, if you could leave one message to the children of Umsilinga Primary School, what would that message be?
Stoff: Never give up on your dreams even when they will seem to be impossible to reach. However don’t forget it is hard work that will make the difference in the end and remember it is taking one step at a time that will get you there. Just like the Unogwaja Challenge!
Help Stoff and the Unogwaja team of 2016 smash their fundraising target and help them to empower the future of our country, for more information or to make a donation head over to http://unogwaja.org.za
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