On 18 February the cheers of hundreds of spectators in George spurred on the more than 300 entrants participating in South Africa's only national road race exclusively for disabled athletes, the 2006 Game Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge.The event has risen to a new level as international athletes from as far a field as France, United States and Switzerland, and neighbouring Zimbabwe flew in to take part. The crowd held their breath in what turned out to be a nail-biting sprint for the finish line between previous record holder, Ernst van Dyk and fellow South African, Krige Schabort, who came in a split second apart with Ernst taking first place. Both athletes completed the 42.2km marathon category in a time of 1:36:44. Alain Fuss from France came in shortly thereafter, completing the race in a time of 1:38:25.
The overall senior men's half marathon wheelchair race (21,1km) was won by Shalk van der Merwe whocompleted the race in a time of 52:11 in a hand cycle, taking the winning title in this sub-category too. Athletes compete in the half marathon either racing in a hand cycle or racing wheelchair. More than 216 men, women and children ranging in age from 3 to 75 years took part in the 7km assisted fun event where participants where pushed by friends and family members. A number of celebrities added to the festive atmosphere, among them Comrades stars Bruce Fordyce and Andrew Kelehe, and commentator Ian Laxton who was assisted by Roland Styles, Game's diminutive promotions manager and popular leader of the push-up boys at Sharks rugby matches.
Now in its fourth year, the event is open to paraplegics, quadriplegics and men and women with cerebral palsy. It is organised by George occupational therapist Esther Watson and a team of volunteers, with Game Stores as title sponsor for the second year running. Game is a longstanding supporter of the physically disabled. The company's ongoing wheelchair drive has provided wheelchairs to the value of R3.7 million for 2 600 learners with physical disability over the past eight years.
Says Fanus Nothnagel, managing director of Game Stores: We were delighted with the substantial increase in the number of entries this year including international entrants from five different countries. The race has also more than achieved its aim of promoting the benefits of sport for persons with physical disability. First-time sub-sponsors, the George Municipality and George Medi-Clinic, were delighted with their investment in the event, its increasing stature on the wheelchair racing calendar and its role in attracting tourists to the region. Organiser Esther Watson thanked the people of George for the warm Southern Cape welcome they offered to competitors and spectators alike, and for their commitment to making the town a as wheelchair-friendly as possible. For more information visit the web site: www.game-occ.co.za.