George Airport adds sparkle to SA’s biggest wheelchair race

Photo: Desmond Scholtz
Photo: Desmond Scholtz

Airports Company South Africa supports mobility for the disabled

Almost 1000 disabled athletes completed events in this year’s Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge on Saturday 21 February. The 2015 challenge, in the heart of South Africa’s world famous Garden Route, included participants from Australia, Germany, Ghana, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe.

The marathon event (42.2km) was won by Ernst Van Dyk of Maties Parasport Club in 1 hour, 9 minutes and 12 seconds. Andries Scheepers of Rustenburg Multisport and Stuart McCreadie also of Maties Parasport took second and third positons. Maties Parasport’s Gert Van Wyk took home the winner’s medal for the half marathon event (21.1km) which he completed in 49 minutes and 49 seconds. Second and third places in the half marathon were won by Ernie Hodgson and Mark Schwartz also of Maties Parasport.

Elliot Boy-Boy Mvanyaza, a private entrant, won the 10 km race in 30 minutes and 46 seconds. Runners up were Benitto Vuma from Khayelitsha Wheel Chair Tennis Club and Siphesile Nzimande from Msunduzi Disabled Club.

On hand to congratulate the athletes was Deputy Minister of Social Development Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu. Bogopane-Zulu, herself partially sighted, has been supportive of various programmes and initiatives focused on people with disabilities. The Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge “is a brilliant example of how cooperation between state-owned enterprises, local government, business and communities can promote the well-being and dignity of people with disability,” said Bogopane-Zulu.

The Deputy Minister added that initiatives of this nature contribute to nation building by demonstrating the benefits of a more inclusive, humane and caring society.

This year’s Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge also offered a Fun Event in which disabled athletes were pushed by assistants. Since fun event contestants can enter in any mobility enhancing vehicle that they can devise or imagine – not just wheelchairs – this race is a lot of fun for both participants and spectators.

After humble beginnings in 2002 with just 27 athletes participating in a half marathon, the Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge, organised by eleven volunteers from the George Rotary Club, was awarded SA National Championship status in 2006 and served as a qualifying race for SA Paralympic marathon team members in 2008 and 2012. In 2009 the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee and Disability Sport South Africa also endorsed the Outeniqua Wheelchair challenge. In the same year George Airport came on board as principal sponsor.

George Airport, one of Airports Company South Africa’s nine airports, is the gateway to South Africa’s world famous garden route. Given the importance of tourism to the economy of the region, George Airport and Airports Company South Africa “recognize the important role that the airport plays in facilitating economic activity and employment in the region,” said George Airport Manager Brenda Vorster. Creating access for leisure and business travel involves the provision of world-class mobility to all the communities that we serve, including the disabled. “Our ongoing sponsorship of this event recognizes the importance of George airport as an economic enabler while demonstrating our commitment to providing all the communities that we serve with mobility,” added Vorster.

By working hand-in-hand with the race committee and George Municipality, which has provided financial and essential logistical support to the event for the last 12 years, Airports Company South Africa is ensuring the ongoing success of the wheelchair race by improving access for the disabled. “Our involvement with the Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge over the last 6 years has inspired Airports Company South Africa to extend George Airport’s capacity to meet the particular challenges of this event. This has provided valuable lessons for mobility provision in our other airports,” added Tebogo Mekgoe, COO of Airports Company South Africa.

Founder and former event coordinator, Esther Watson of George Rotary Club, once described the Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge as, “a pioneering event for disabled athletes, providing an opportunity for all wheelchair-bound persons to take part in a major sporting event that recognizes all participants as athletes with dignity, no matter what their level of participation.” The Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge is not only a race for world-class athletes. The race also presents the ordinary person in a wheelchair with a chance to rediscover long-forgotten abilities and achieve something special that they can be proud of.

Airports Company South Africa wishes to extend its deepest condolences to the family, team members and friends of disabled Zimbabwean athlete Dorcas Hwatira. Hwatira died tragically in an accident with a motor vehicle while returning from pre-race training in George last week.

Airports Company South Africa

The Airports Company South Africa is the largest airport authority in Africa. With a global footprint spanning three continents Airports Company South Africa provides a professional, world-class service for South Africa’s nine principle airports as well as airports in Mumbai, India and São Paulo, Brazil.

Airports Company South Africa’s airports are responsible for more than 80 percent of South Africa’s commercial air travel, managing over 35 million passengers per year.

In support of Airports Company South Africa’s significant investments in infrastructure, the company has implemented Airport Management Centres (AMCs) throughout its network. ACMs focus on improving all operational aspects of the mobility value chain.

For the last eight years Airports Company South Africa has managed and operated Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai. The airport processes 29 million passengers per annum and 340 000 tons of cargo. Airports Company South Africa has also developed, manages and operates Guarulhos International Airport in São Paulo, Brazil. Guarulhos is the busiest international airport in Latin America, handling 28 million passengers and 358 000 tons of cargo per annum.

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