Greetings to my EFRT Teammates and blog readers.
Well, I’m back home from South Africa. Actually, I’m in a rental car heading from Muncie to O’Hare airport in Chicago to drop off the car and then drive back home. Then I will be officially finished with the Ironman South Africa and US Masters Swimming Spring Nationals three week mega trip.
I really wanted to do more blogging throughout the entire experience, but I was so overwhelmed and lacked internet access, so I just wasn’t able to do it. The logistics of traveling with seven people, which became ten when my sister, father and step-mother arrived, fifteen pieces of luggage, a stroller and a bike kept me on my toes. But ahhhhhhh, we did it!
So let me get to the story!
[caption id="attachment_2062" align="alignright" width="270" caption="Emmanuel Baleka at beach on typical day in Port Elizabeth"][/caption]
First of all, it was a running joke with me and my wife. I was so worried about wind and waves from what I had heard and seen on the 2010 race dvd. Everyday for two weeks before the race, I’d say to my wife, “If its like this on race day it will be perfect!” Indeed, the weather had been absolutely fantastic for racing. Mid seventy degrees, bright, sunny, no rain, slight breeze . . . .Each morning I went to the beach for a swim the water was completely calm. “Yes!” I thought to myself. So of course the night before the race a storm blew in and I heard the famous howling winds as I tried to sleep. I grew up in the far suburbs of the “Windy City” of Chicago, only to find out that Port Elizabeth is also called “The Windy City”. And believe me, Chicago has nothing on Port Elizabeth.
[caption id="attachment_2063" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Triangle Sports Official Shop of Ironman South Africa"][/caption]
All the pre-race stuff and preparation for my first Ironman was a little intimidating. After getting settled into our resort chalet (a two room 8 sleeper for us and a 4 sleeper for my father and step mother both with kitchens, three bathrooms and two car ports), the first order of business was getting my bike built up. Dale, a staff member at Pine Lodge Resorts, told me that Triangle Sports was the official race shop and said I should head over there. So first thing in the morning I drove over there. The first guy I talked to ( a young white guy) told me there was absolutely no way they could build my bike. He said they were just too busy already and told me to try another place called Action Cycles. I was surprised, seeing how it was still another 11 days or so before the race. I mean, it wasn’t like I showed up on the Friday before the race!
Anyway, right then a young black guy about my height and build came over to me and we started talking. He told me his name was Hanson. Well, since they couldn’t build my bike, I asked Hanson if they could at least fix the zipper on my wetsuit which I discovered just this morning was off track. Hanson said no problem, and while he worked on my wetsuit, Kenneth, the mechanic in the back came out and said he would build my bike right then if I would bring it in the back. Sweet! A break for me, finally!
[caption id="attachment_2066" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Mzwimanene “Hanson” Singaphi & Siphiwe Baleka"][/caption]
As Kenneth worked on my bike, I spoke with Hanson. He told me this was going to be his 7th Ironman and that he was part of the South African Development Team. Mzwimanene “Hanson” Singaphi was just the “TriBlackAlete” I was hoping to meet in South Africa. He was very friendly and liked the fact that we both rode Quintanna Roo Lucero!
My bike built up, I was ready to leave, when one of Hanson’s fellow TriBlackAletes showed up. He introduced me to Wonga Mfula, another extremely friendly guy, who invited me to a group ride the following morning. They were going to do one loop of the three loop race course. So obviously I was WAY thrilled. It seemed as if things were just falling into my lap now. I was going on my first ever group ride with some of the best black South African triathletes! Man was this awesome.
I was happy to get a preview of the bike course and the group ride went very well except for the moment when we came to a stop and I couldn’t get out of my toe clips and I fell over. The guys laughed and hooted, “Welcome to Africa!” I played it off well, but had to sit down for a minute because I got light headed and felt like I was gonna pass out! I was ok though, and we finished the loop. All along the way, Wonga gave me tips and advice about each section of the course, where to attack, where to hold back, what to expect, etc. These guys knew the course like the back of their hand and I was grateful for their help. They purposely dropped me on the Marine Drive section, though, just to let me know how good they were, but turned around and cycled back to me so we could all finish together. All in all, it was a great day for me.
It was not, however, a great day for my wife. Though I recovered (mostly) from my feverish ache from the plane ride, my wife had not. In fact, she got worse. Finally I took her to the hospital to find out she had a bad case of tonsillitis! Youch! The doctor, an Ironman himself (is everyone is this town an Ironman?!), gave her a prescription and a shot in the rump. To be on the safe side, I asked the doc to check me out, too. Sure enough, I also had a case of tonsilitis, though not as severe. The doc gave me a different prescription for a one-off treatment. I drink the medicine one time and about 48 hours I’m cured. He said this would not interfere at all with my Ironman taper or race.
[caption id="attachment_2068" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Getting close to a lion at Addo National Elephant Park"][/caption]
I still had to get to mandatory pre-race meetings, figure out how to carry my nutrition on the bike, pack my transition bags, and figure out race day transportation and logistics for the family. I had several days to do this, but I also had to take care of my family, too. This meant making the trip to South Africa more than just about the Ironman race. So I had planned to use a few days before the race to do some family activities. We went to King’s Beach, Bay World Museum, Kragga Kamma Game Park, and Addo National Elephant Park. At Kragga Kamma Game Park, we got our first glimpse of the African Wild. Driving our own rental car we saw warthogs, antelope, ostrich, zebras, springbok, nyala, wildebeast, impala, vervet monkeys, and my favorite, giraffe. At Addo National Elephant Park we saw all that as well as lions and elephants, which were less than five feet from the car! Scary!
[caption id="attachment_2069" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Chadonicak, TaNihisi and the Elephant"][/caption]
Our best adventure, however, was the Calabash Tour. “Nelson”, our witty tour guide, drove us through all the neighborhoods of Port Elizabeth, from the very rich, to the poorest of “townships”, explaining the history of each. As their program brochure says, “Our operation is a commercial venture with a social agenda, focused on developing the communities we visit and a a dynamic interface that includes local people in the positive benefits of tourism.” Indeed, we went places we would never have seen, and learned and experienced so much in three hours. At one of the townships, we stopped at the Ubunye Art & Craft Centre and bought gifts made be members of the township who would otherwise never see a tourist dollar! The highlight of the tour, however, was our visit to the Charles Duna Primary School in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth. The school has 28 classes and 41 teachers for 1008 students coming from the neighboring squatter camp.Nelson introduced us to Nombulelo Sume, the school principal, who treated us like VIPs and gave us a complete tour of the school and access to all the classes which were in session.We walked freely among the students as she explained the struggles and triumphs of the school. We all nearly cried when she told us how they had no running water (think about flushing toilets), but she emphasized that she and the students were nothing but positive, and indeed, they were. You could see the happiness on their faces, determined to make the most of any opportunity.
[caption id="attachment_2073" align="aligncenter" width="1024" caption="Chadonicka with students at Chalres Duna Primary School"][/caption]
Principal Sume then invited us to tea and traditional bread, and during our snack, they learned of my participation in the Ironman race and that I was a national champion swimmer. Instantly I became a kind of “star” and Principal Sume said it would mean a great deal if I would talk to and encourage her students and that she could not let a star black athlete from the United States leave without making the most of it. I was honored and humbled, and holding my infant son and with my father watching me, I addressed the attentive students, explaining to them what an Ironman was. I told them that I wasn’t much different than them, and that if they practiced everyday, they, too, could do something extraordinary. Speaking to those kids was the most meaningful event of the entire trip to South Africa, and I promised I would race hard for them. They, in turn, promised that come hell or high water, they would get a tv so that they could watch #784! We left with the kids shouting, “7-8-4 . . . 7-8-4!” That was Firday, two days before the race. I was now ready for Ironman South Africa.
[caption id="attachment_2075" align="aligncenter" width="1024" caption="My moment"][/caption]
Note: Principal Sume let us know that $250 can get the school a badly needed water tank, a provisional step in their struggle to get adequate pluming. Team Baleka will be purchasing one such tank, but they need more, as well as many other things. If you would like to donate to this worthy cause you can contact:
+27 (0)41 585 9255
Tell them you want your donation to benefit the Charles Duna Primary School in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth and tell them Siphiwe Baleka #784 sent you!
My next post will be my race report.