In my various roles with Unogwaja over the past four years, I have met some fine individuals. People who will always put others before themselves, people who are determined to leave the World better each day and people who believe in the power of following your heart. All these descriptions could describe Miguel Netto, one of the humblest and most authentic men I have had the privilege of meeting. A selfless team man from the 2015 Unogwaja Challenge, Miguel was invited back for 2016 and jumped at the opportunity, where his wife Ros, will once again join the support crew. I can tell you the 2016 team are better off for having him in the team. Migs and I had a chat about all things Unogwaja.
Jabu: Why would you want to put yourself through this again?
Miguel: The simple answer would be that Stoff invited / asked me to return this year and as we all know, you ALWAYS listen to the Stoff. Just kidding (Jabu: He isn’t kidding, you ALWAYS listen to Stoff. #GetStoffed). But on a more serious note, accepting my invite to return to the Unogwaja 2016 journey was one of the easiest decisions I have ever had to make. The 2015 journey impacted me in such a positive way and I gained a deepened appreciation for South Africa. I wanted the opportunity to experience it all over again, not only to relive the journey, but to also take in the aspects that I may have missed the first time round, now with a different perspective and purpose. 10 days may seem like a lot to be out there travelling across South Africa, but to be honest it goes by so quickly and you do not get a chance to take it all in and make the full impact you planned to make. The Unogwaja Challenge is so much more than a physical challenge of riding and running across South Africa. It provides you with a real perspective on life and how lucky we are to live in the most beautiful country in the world! I met incredible people out there in 2015, from our own team mates to passers-by in and around small towns and villages I would not normally have chosen to visit. I cannot wait to see who I will get to meet this time around.
Jabu: Your life has changed a lot in the last year since Unogwaja, what has been the highlight?
Miguel: Since last year’s Unogwaja, my life has changed a lot and to be honest it’s been all for the good. I have achieved a lot of the goals I set out to complete. However I can say without any doubt, that the highlight was getting married to my beautiful wife Rosalind Netto in November. Many people who know us both will know that we are extremely close and getting the opportunity to marry my best friend is really special to me. I am a very lucky and thankful guy. Last year we were engaged on Unogwaja and this year we return married!
Jabu: You recently completed the Cape Epic, how was the experience?
Miguel: I thought this question was leading off the previous question about the highlight since Unogwaja 2015. Cape Epic was high on the list but not above getting married (Jabu: I promise Ros, I expected you to be the highlight!). The Cape Epic was always a dream of mine that I was never sure would be ticked off the bucket list, but luckily enough it became a reality in March and all I can say is – Wow! What an experience. That is one thing about the Cape Epic, they know how to do it VERY right! Considering I only found out 6 weeks prior to the event that I was doing it, I was very happy with the result. It was by far one of the most gruelling endurance events I have ever done (which says a lot). As the slogan said – It was 8 days of courage and determination. In saying this, it was one of the most enjoyable events I’ve had the privilege of doing and I am very proud to be able to call myself an ABSA Cape Epic Finisher! No doubt I will go back again in the future.
Jabu: You also have competed in Iron Man competitions, what attracts you to these ultra-events?
Miguel: As I mentioned, I live for long, hard and testing endurance events. What attracts me to these type of events is the “unknown” of how far can I take my mind and body. You enter these things knowing that you will be stretched out of your comfort zone and tested beyond measure both physically and mentally. That is what I love. I live by the words – As you move outside of your comfort zone, what was once the unknown and frightening becomes your new normal and therefore life begins at the end of your comfort zone! I set myself the highest of standards and really enjoy putting in the hard work and dedication to achieve them. I have never liked it easy and I don’t think I ever will. The longer and harder it gets, the better I become, simply because I am forced to try harder and harder.
Jabu: Unogwaja 2015 was a visibly emotional experience for you, how have you changed as a person as a result of Unogwaja?
Miguel: Unogwaja 2015 was one of the most emotional experiences I have ever been through (hence me being labelled the emotional one and tearing up almost every day). The mere magnitude of what we, as a small group of individuals, who only met a few days before we left, were doing and achieving each day was so special to be part of. This coupled with the belief in the greater cause, Unogwaja, and the meaning of why we are doing this and who we were doing this for, really just brought out a world of emotions. Our team, strangers from all corners of the earth and all walks of life, formed a family bond out there and to watch and play my part with our newly formed family, going through all those highs and showing sheer fight and grit during the lows really does take your emotions to a new height! I think the Unogwaja journey really has made me realise that there are times in life and in journeys like this, where the occasion gets the better of you and you forget to take a step back and actually appreciate the unique experiences and special moments a lot more. Trying to take the absolute most out of every opportunity is something I am trying live by since last year’s Unogwaja journey. I cannot wait to take this frame of mind into the 2016 journey!
Jabu: Last year was your first ever Comrades experience, what was that like for you?
Miguel: Going into Comrades last year, I really had no idea what to expect from what they call the Ultimate Human Race. My experience was one of two sides – the actual race for me was brutal on my body. I think the accumulation of the ten day cycle caught up with me with 20km’s to go and were certainly the darkest moments I have had in my endurance career to date. I ran the entire day/race with my “brother” Craig Wiseman and we pulled each other over those 89km’s. It was truly special and a day that I will certainly never forget! The photos of emotion between the two of us at the finish tell the story. In saying this, the Comrades Marathon was one of the best experiences I have had. The proudly South African feel and unity of people all striving towards that finish line was incredible. There is so much camaraderie among strangers out there on the road. We as South Africans really need to be proud of this event, as it really is one of kind and rightfully names the Ultimate Human Race!
Miguel: Having Rozi out there with us and being so close to me on the journey without any doubt makes a big difference to me and I would be lying if I said it didn’t. However, in saying that, she has supported me and been there for me through every single event (both training / build up to the actual event itself), so she knows when and where to be there for me. I naturally do not like too much fuss being made about / around me and she knows this and therefore knows just when to step in and be the support structure anyone could ask for. She herself however has stressed that although we are obviously closer to each other than the rest of the team and the temptation out on the journey will be to naturally “help me more than others”, this is not the case at all. We are all on the same level out there and the job both her and I play for the team is what we are there to do, it’s why we have come back to the Challenge a second time round. We are all one big family and we treat each other with the same respect and quality no matter what!
Jabu: How difficult has it been to raise funds this year bearing in mind the economic times and that you are doing the event for a second time?
Miguel: It has indeed been a bit more challenging to raise funds a second time round and as you have pointed out, it’s been due to a combination of the current economic times we are facing in South Africa and the fact that I have done this “event” before. I’ve had to change my fundraising approach quite a bit. It’s never easy going back to the same people groups of family and friends (and even corporates) who generously supported me before. This year I focused on trying to make it easier and more accessible for more people to donate the smaller “pocket change” kind of donations. I came up with my FiveRandMan campaign where people could easily donate as little as R5 (more often) into a mobile app called Snap Scan. Often people get put off having to donate money if there are too many steps involved and so I partnered with the Snap Scan app in enable people to simply donate by scanning my unique barcode and making the payment via the app that is linked to their debit/credit cards. This approach has been hugely successful and I am well on my way to hitting my fundraising target.
In addition to that, I teamed up with other team mates locally to host an event at the Artscape, Theatre in Cape Town, which was a huge success and something I didn’t have the opportunity to do last year. This provided something new for my existing and new network of supporters to attend and part take in.
Lastly, I just announced a partnership with Stillwater Trail Running to bring together the Unogwaja Challenge Lottery. Any of your readers can enter and they stand a chance to win a team (2 person) entry into the Cell C African X Trail Run stage race in March 2017. (Jabu: Check out all the info in the picture below)
Miguel: Finding ways to support and influence children in South Africa holds a very special place in my heart and I realised this when I founded my own fundraising organisation in 2011 called Miles4MiracleKidz. The purpose of building MilesforMiracleKidz was to help support a safe house in Cape Town, who so desperately needed financial support to keep their doors open and in turn, keep children safe and off the streets. It showed me that giving a ray of hope (through providing a safe environment, education and support) to young children can impact their future for the better
I firmly believe that children are the foundation of the future of South Africa. The future depends on the investments we make in the children and how we can positively impact their lives from a young age. In saying this, and to answer your question, I would like to encourage the children of South Africa to believe in themselves and what they stand for! They do matter! I encourage them to work hard at a young age towards starting on a course which is true to themselves, but at the same know that they are not alone in this and that there are people and organisations like Unogwaja who are behind them and fighting this good fight with them. As we see every day in this country – Anything is achievable, if we put our heart and soul into it. As I have said so often – We need to be the change we want to see in the world.
Jabu: Why is it so important for you to make a difference?
Miguel: Growing up I never really took an interest making a difference until, in 2010, when one day, I had the small idea of using my IronMan race to raise a bit of money for a children’s home. I had no idea that in the next few months, it would turn into an organisation of my own which raised over R65 000 that year. This really opened up my eyes and gave me massive perspective, that anyone can make a difference. No matter how big, or small. It all counts! It was from there, that I really put a lot of my focus into making a difference because I have the base and the potential to make a huge difference, whilst playing my role in showing others that they can too. Growing up, I was taught the value of hard work and really putting in the hard yards towards achieving the things I wanted and nothing comes for free. I never want to reach a point whereby I feel like I should have made a difference. I would rather stand there knowing that I gave it my all towards making a difference. I say it once again, I for certain want to be the change I want to see in this country and world.
Jabu: What is the one thing you want people to remember about you?
Miguel: I would to people to remember as the guy who “wears his heart on his sleeve and never gives up” – I’m transparent in the way I feel and what you see is what you get from me. I give 100% in everything I do and I am willing to do any job or play any role needed from me in order to make sure my Unogwaja 2016 family gets to that finish line in Durban to make this a success and incredible journey.
Follow the Unogwaja Challenge and the Miguel’s journey of the heart at Unogwaja.com