I first met Ian when I was asked to interview him for the Unogwaja Challenge. Our mutual love of Red Socks and the Arsenal Football club led to a great couple of chats and even an early morning climb up Lions Head together. As Ian prepares to take on the journey from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg to emulate Phil Masterton-Smith, I had a chat with him about the journey.
Jabu: Having not initially been in the team, how excited were you when you were added to the team?
Ian: How does one put being called up to the Unogwaja Challenge in words? This is really a once in a life time opportunity for most people. A journey that you will remember for the rest of your life, forever sharing a common bond with a handful of individuals from all over the globe. When I first heard that I would be called up to the team it came as a total shock to me, the most surreal feeling came over and I had to keep on pinching myself to make sure I was not dreaming. If felt as if I had won the UK lotto. Everything I was hoping and praying for culminated in that one moment, a moment and feeling I will never forget!
Jabu: What is your biggest reason for taking place in the 2016 Unogwaja?
Ian: I enjoy sport, and sport is one of the main contributors, in my opinion, that unites South Africa. What better way to achieve this unification than by cycling across the country, through the rural areas linking Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg. Followed by the legacy of the Comrades marathon, spreading love and hope to all those we meet along our journey, not only on the road, but through our ongoing fundraising and friendships we make. There are many less fortunate South Africans and I believe it is up to each and every one of us to not only talk, but take action and to help in any way we can. The Unogwaja Challenge is my way of taking action and making a difference.
Ian: I hope I can leave others with a belief in the goodness and the magic of the world outside their door because I know that there is beauty everywhere, you just need to open your eyes and take it in. And I want to be a reminder that you should keep going when things get hard. If I learned anything through my own hardships and challenges, it’s that I was stronger than I ever thought. I want to remind people not to think about how you will find the strength but rather just keep moving and the strength will come. Looking at what I have taken in from others and also what I have learned from my own experiences has been a powerful exploration of who I am and what I hope to leave behind.
Jabu: That is fantastic stuff. You have taken part in a number of endurance events already, why do these events attract you so much?
Ian: There is something to be said for surprising yourself and surpassing your perceived limitations. The great thing about endurance training is that you get back what you put in. When you train, you learn that your body can do things you never believed possible. You also learn to push past pain and exhaustion to a whole new level of power. When I completed my first Ironman, I felt I was invincible. That feeling spills into other areas of life. You learn that hard work and dedication pay off. So you continue to push against all of life’s limits, not just the physical or fitness barriers.
Jabu: How did you come to find out about the story of Red Socks and Unogwaja?
Ian: I found out about the Red Socks a few years back when I met John McInroy on my first morning hike up Lions Head. The passion and enthusiasm he spoke of grabbed my attention and I was immediately drawn into the Red Sock community and bought my first of many pairs of Red Socks. From that morning, every hike, run or cycle I do I proudly where my socks and explain the reasoning behind it. Sharing adventures with friends and celebrating life. The first time I heard of the Unogwaja Challenge I thought these guys are absolutely bonkers! How is this even possible? Why would you someone do this? They must be extreme athletes on a totally different level. The more my friendship with past participants grew, their absolute belief that anything is possible if you stay positive and believe in yourself, tipped me over the edge to apply. Not only do I go on an incredible journey through South Africa, a journey of self-discovery, but I get to create awareness and as I grow older giving back to those less fortunate than myself has become very important to me.
Ian: ShoOops is how the Red Sock community greet each other, knowing you both share the same enthusiasm for life, adventure and are there to help out anyone in need.
Jabu: What inspires you?
Ian: When a group of people from different backgrounds from all parts of the globe comes together because they like something, believe in something, support something or want to create positive change I am inspired and want to be part of something great as well. There are a lot of people who need help in our world and there are a lot of people out there doing their very best to give it to them. Every time I see someone working hard to create change or make life better for people I am inspired and honoured to be part of the things that I can be.
Jabu: How tough has the fundraising been?
Ian: The thing with fundraisers is like most endeavours, the excitement you feel about it in the beginning is temporary and the initial high wears off. I have found this part of the journey to be the toughest. Luckily within the Unogwaja and Red Sock community there is a high level of support and willingness to participate and help each other out. Along with very generous individual donations by friends and team mates from outside of the Unogwaja community, I have organized numerous successful fundraisers throughout the donation period which has shown the generosity of South African companies, friends and family etc. We truly are a wonderful nation.
Jabu: What is the one thing we should all be doing differently to make the world a better place?
Ian: Get involved. I know it’s hard if we’re working a full time job and have kids, or are struggling through the depths of winter, or have just dealt with a scarring break-up, but the world asks us to participate. Stay open to the cues and see what we might have to offer the world. If we think something needs to be changed, write a letter, start a petition, do more direct activism. Just remember that every single thing you do makes a difference. Don’t ever let anyone, yourself included, discourage you from trying to be a better person and help others.
You can help Ian and the Unogwaja team on their journey of heart by donating towards the Unogwaja Charitable Trust in its support of various initiatives including the Umsilinga Primary School. Just follow the links on Unogwaja.org.za