GEORGE NEWS - Zach Legward is no ordinary 12-year-old. He is the youngest hand cyclist in South Africa, has won gold in the Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge (OCC) three times, ridden the Cape Town Cycle Tour Junior and written himself into the record books when he rode the Momentum Knysna Cycle Tour 50km in 2018.
He also participated in the 94.7 race and did 50km of the route by special arrangement.
Zach was born with Gastroschisis, a condition where the bowels develop outside the baby's body. Corrective surgery shortly after birth lead to complications which ultimately left him paralysed from the waist down. Although he was confined to a wheelchair, like most little boys, Zach wanted a bicycle.
This got his dad Geoff, an active sportsman, thinking.
"Unfortunately, you can't just walk into a shop and buy one, so (four years ago) we made him his first one out of two steel BMX bikes, very much a sit-up type. Two years later, because he had grown so much, we made him a proper race bike. You can get bikes out of the USA or UK, but they cost between R60 000 and R200 000, and each one has to be custom-built for the athlete's disability. It took us five months of late nights and hard work to finish his bike, using pictures and dimensions downloaded from the Internet, but now he is flying. I think he likes cycling because it gives him freedom. He loves the speed - going downhill we have seen his bike do 50km/h, but I start getting a bit nervous - and he also just loves riding through puddles of water," Geoff told the Modern Athlete.
With the increased physical activity, Geoff reports that they are seeing changes slowly starting to happen to Zach's body. He is experiencing feeling in places where previously it had not been the case. Nobody really knows why, but Geoff suspects it's a result of Zach's increased cardiovascular activity.
After obtaining permission to compete in the 50km Knysna Cycle Race 2018, Zach completed the race in 4 hours and 1 minute. For safety, he was "boxed in" by dad Geoff and Shaun Weber throughout the race, and there was a backup motorcycle in case of technical failures.
Justifiably proud of his son, Geoff told Modern Athlete that Zach has a never-say-die attitude and is scared of nothing. "He swims, scuba dives, rides a quad bike, flies radio-controlled planes, and is a very happy little boy. He never wakes up in a bad mood and is always smiling. He wants to go to the Olympics one day, and riding Knysna will hopefully be a big step towards that. Like all kids he plays computer games and is super computer literate," said his proud father.
Zach has become a firm crowd favourite at the OCC since astounding the crowd during his first race as a ten-year-old and is looking forward to competing again this year.
He will be riding a smaller version of the hand cycle that Ernst van Dyk competes in. The new cycle weighs only 15kg (as opposed to 24kg); something that will most certainly allow Zach to significantly reduce his time.
"Getting the medals and passing other athletes in the race were the best parts of the OCC," Zach told the George Herald after last year's race.
The Outeniqua Cycle Challenge
The 17th OCC, a wheelchair race exclusively for disabled athletes that attracts athletes from all over the world, will take place in George on Saturday 14 September.
And - every year it is getting bigger and better! The number of entries has increased dramatically, with disabled athletes and other persons in wheelchairs flocking to this annual event.
The Challenge is not only unique as being the first and only event exclusively for the disabled in South Africa, but it is staged in the picturesque town of George, in the heart of the spectacular Garden Route in the Western Cape, situated beneath the splendour of the Outeniqua Mountains.
Athletes in racing wheelchairs, adapted bicycles, hand cycles, basketball chairs and ordinary wheelchairs have made this into the premier sporting event for the disabled on the South African sporting calendar. It undoubtedly has the potential to develop into one of the best events of its kind in the world!
Apart from the George Municipality, Lancewood and the Department of Cultural Affairs & Sport is supporting the event. Halfway Toyota is the venue host for the event.
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