“Since I was first diagnosed, my dream has been to have a team of survivors competing in one of the toughest forms of racing in the world.”
Don Sims did not wait until he was cleared of leukaemia to think about the future. He stomped out his cancer with chemo, using lessons from his years of Adventure Racing locally and internationally with the successful Merrell Adventure Addicts which, he said “taught me to have the ‘vasbyt’ I needed to dig deep and focus on the end goal of being well again.” And now he’s convinced three other survivors to join him in inspiring hope in all those impacted by the disease by racing hard as the Merrell Cancer Crew at Expedition Africa this year – an event he has won three times with the original Merrell team.
It’s a non-stop, multi-day, multi-discipline endurance event where teams of four must race as a unit around an unmarked course set in the remote Cederberg. They will rely solely on each other to get through the wilderness with no external assistance. “Adventure Racing is a true test of the human condition and spirit and one of few extreme sports that showcases the extraordinary power of teamwork.” Says Mike Clarke, whose multitude of endurance sporting achievements, including several Cape to Rio yacht races, was interrupted by a sneaky colon cancer which he subdued with surgery and a positive change in diet and lifestyle.
Angie Austin, Cape Point surf skier and Berg River Canoe Marathon paddler, has had numerous surgeries in the four years since diagnosed with melanoma cancer just months after the birth of her son. She has a long list of mountain bike and triathlon finishes to complement her paddling but this will be her first expedition length AR.
“Don says we will be pushed to extremes in harsh environments with elements we have no control over. We will get to comprehend our (often underestimated) capabilities and are supported by our team every step of the way. This pretty much sums up every person’s fight with cancer. Not just the physical battle but the mental one and how your ‘crew’ can carry you through the darkest times.”
Without fail the athletes mention the value of family and friends to overcome the disease. Which is why the fourth member of the pack may well be the most prepared to deal with the psychological part of this endeavour.
“My biggest challenge was being with Don going through his illness. Now that we have conquered that monster I am looking forward to this challenge.” Says his wife, the indomitable Athena Sims, who also witnessed her parents struggle with the disease. “We want to show people there is life after cancer and even life with cancer.”
When asked about any special precautions they would need to take, their answers didn’t differ from any other endurance athlete: Continuous monitoring of energy levels and food intake, pacing, recovery and lots of quality sunscreen.
The four met up in Oorlogskloof this weekend to train together – a good opportunity to test team dynamics, Angie’s avid aversion to peanut butter and listen to Mike’s mantra: “It’s a fact that light and lightness will come at dawn.”
“What a great weekend.” said Don. “These guys are amazing, all newbies to what we are preparing for but totally committed to the task at hand.
I pushed when they didn’t want to be pushed and drove them a little harder when they wanted to sleep and we had a full weekend of being awake, being outside and pulling together. The team were awake for 38 hours with only an hour of sleep…..and they still want to race! It seems they are ready!”
Their experience at Expedition Africa – every gut wrenching, aching, flying high and plunging low, life affirming moment of it – will be a shout out to everyone facing this disease. “Do not, not even for a moment, think of giving up!”
Follow their journey on FB Merrell Cancer Crew