SA Rugby Legend Stefan Terblanche has just completed Godzone with Team Merrell, competing against the best Adventure Racers in the world in his first ever attempt at the sport.
“That is by far, the toughest thing I have ever done.” Said the former Springbok who played against the All Blacks. “Fifty times harder than I imagined. Just when you think a bad part is done, there’s more. Always more.”
Only 24 of the 72 teams who started the epic expedition in New Zealand’s remote Fiordland could manage to finish the full course and Merrell paddled up to the finish after 9 days 2 hours and 45 minutes. The longest-serving racers on this course!
This year the event, in it’s seventh chapter, has gone even bigger and tougher, using the wild terrain and unpredictable elements of the southwestern Fiordland corner of the country to challenge the top navigators and delight competitors with the astounding experiences and views that they had to work so very hard to see.
Having started on 1 March, teams set out to tackle the 7 legs and 550km non-stop, trekking and packrafting, mountain biking and kayaking while managing the toll on the body that being constantly wet and overtired can take. Packs weighed 15-20kg, full of mandatory equipment to keep them completely self-sufficient as well as food and gear for the various disciplines. This is the extreme end of extreme sports.
“To get a novice around this course…” started team captain Graham Bird, shaking his head. “I don’t think anyone else could’ve done it. Ten weeks ago Stefan had never done more than 21km in a day. Never done anything overnight. He has been amazing. He was broken but he would never give up.”
Stefan was equally impressed by his teammates. “It’s just amazing how they work the terrain, move through the bush, skip up a river, haul their bikes up the mountain passes. And keep going. Machines.”
Supporters around the world have been checking in on the live tracking to follow the teams across countryside that demands superlatives. Access to the majority of the area is normally only viable by helicopter and through the event, those watching online get a taste of what lies well beyond the popular hiking trails.
“Yoh. Now THAT was an epic adventure.” Said Grant Ross “We have seen and done the most incredible things.”
Known locally as the Merrell Adventure Addicts, the team has been supported by Merrell since 2010 under the captaincy of Graham Bird and have raced extensively internationally and at home. Sometimes they win, sometimes they place and sometimes they persevere against the odds, winning the hearts of everyone who follows their incredible journeys. This time they weren’t planning on reaching the podium, but on finishing and although it took them a few days longer than they originally expected, they are all in a relatively healthy state.
“I’ve never slept so much on a race!” said Jane Swarbreck. “Or felt so good at the end of one.”
“Absolutely inspirational people” said Sarah Hearn who followed the race on the ground and posted updates on the popular teams FB. “Not just our team but everyone out there. AR is not just the sum of three disciplines. Those skills are the vehicle on which to get around the course but the truly successful racers have mastered the arts of navigation, team dynamics, logical thinking, efficiency and practicalities. And humour in the face of huge blisters. They are tenacious, loyal and to be relied upon and trusted with your life.
Adventure Racers may not look so good at the end of a race, and they smell pretty bad, but they are, without a doubt or a hesitation, the people you want in your corner.”
Team Yealands won again, in a phenomenal effort of 5,5 days and PwC, the team that Richie McCaw has been training hard with for his second GODZone, finished strongly in 6th position in 6,5 days.
Beyond all the actual racing, the common standout comment from the team was the friendliness of the locals everywhere. Those who volunteered throughout the event, doctors who genuinely wanted to help, homeowners who set up BBQ’s and offered beers and sausages to every battered body on a bike, hunters who made them (illegally) caught deer soup. “Just astounding. The loveliest, most genuinely kind and nice people everywhere.” Said Stefan. (Perhaps because he’s not trying to tackle them.)
Don’t ask the obvious question just yet…Stefan’s feet are swollen and sore, his body is damaged, he’s keen to get home and see his wife and kids. But already there’s that glint in his eye as they chat about what they have just accomplished.
“What could you possibly do after this that could compare?” asked an onlooker.
The team will each write their own race reports in the days to come.
Thank you again to all the sponsors who support South African Adventure Racing and good people!
Our main sponsor Merrell and products sponsors Black Diamond, Island Tribe, Ocean Eyewear, Extreme Lights, Squirt Lube, ButtaNutt Spreads, Racefood, Giant, Fluid Kayaks, BackCountry Cuisine and Nuun – without you, we would still be out there!