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South Africa: no feet no hindrance for cyclist

Disability does not hold back young South African who competes in grueling race.

Lubner says Xolisa’s story is fairly typical of a black or ’’colored’’ (mixed-race) South African, born in a shanty town. ’’Xolisa’s mother died when he was a baby. His father did not have the capacity to take care of him so he ended up living with a relative and six or seven other children in a small room. One of our field workers found him.’’

Tracing children in need is one of the greatest challenges faced by Sabrina Love. Eight years since its inception, the charity handles the practical needs of 60 children in and around the small seaside resort of Plettenberg Bay, including 27 mentally and physically disabled youngsters who attend its daycare center.

’’When we started, we struggled to find children in need,’’ said Lubner. ’’We knew they were out there but families kept them secret because, culturally, many people feel that a disabled child is a poor reflection on them.’’

Lubner does not know the full details of how Xolisa lost his feet but it is believed they were attacked by gangrene when he was 5 and amputated. After the charity found him in 2008, it first bought him a wheelchair, then arranged for ’’fairly crude’’ boots and crutches. Next came a series of operations to allow Xolisa to be fitted with fibreglass prosthetic feet. Finally, using money raised by cyclists in the 2010 Argus and thanks to Lubner lobbying a range of specialists to give their services for free, Xolisa received his carbon fibre prosthetics in October last year.

’’They cost us about 60,000 rands [$8,700] but the exercise, had we paid the full price for everyone’s time and skill, would have come to close to 200,000 rands [$29,000],’’ said Lubner.

Xolisa’s lighweight prothetics — made in Iceland by Ossur, the company that supplies South Africa's celebrated ’’blade runner,’’ Oscar Pistorius — have ankle and toe joints and are fitted to shin guards that strap onto his lower legs.

’’I asked for the shin guards to be yellow and green, the colors of the South African national soccer team,’’ said the teenager who was the coach of a local children’s team until he went into training five months ago for the Argus.

Before the race, Xolisa had said only that he hoped to finish the hilly and often wind-blown road circuit. His coach, Wiseman Magugu, 46, was aiming for a best possible time of six hours, and cautioned that the youngster had only ever cycled 50 miles in one stretch. Dozens of cyclists drop out of the gruelling race every year due to crashes, mechanical trouble or sheer exhaustion.

The Cape Argus was won by South African professional Tyler Day in a record time of 2 hours, 32 minutes and 10 seconds. Xolisa, flanked by Magugu, crossed the finishing line after 5 hours and 10 minutes – ahead of thousands of able-bodied adults.