The 361km, non-stop mountain biking event brought with it many firsts for Sthembiso Masango, Mazwi Smimango, Ndumiso Dontso and Sipho Kupiso, many of which aided rounding the quartet both as athletes and people alike.

“We are thrilled with how the guys went at the 36ONE MTB Challenge; that they had a good trip, learnt a lot and also that all four of them finished the race!” exuberated a proud Change a Life founder Dreyer.

ccs-62657-0-68558500-1461249696.jpgRMB Change a Life MTB Academy members Sipho Kupiso (front) and Ndumiso Dontso (background), together with Sthembiso Masango and Mazwi Smimango, were taken out of the comfort zone their usual Valley of a Thousand Hills surrounds bring and tasked with the gruelling 361km, non-stop 36ONE MTB Challenge last weekend, a task they passed with flying colours. Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media

“This was such a big learning curve for all four of them with none of them having ever done anything like this before!

“Previously the furthest they’d ridden non-stop in a race was the 100km Hill2Hill, let alone ridding in the dark of night and through the tough, dry Karoo environment,” he added.

Masango and Smimango’s tenth and 21st respectively in the favoured men’s solo category were notable individual efforts while Dontso and Kupiso continued their remarkable pairing, racing to second place in the two man team category.

Just as pleasing for Dreyer though was the exposure to something very different to what his charges are used to and their desire to now push themselves further.

“This was just such a great challenge for our guys that tested their boundaries and pushed them mentally more than they’d ever been before.

“They’re now all so excited to try follow in John Ntuli’s footsteps and take on The Munga later in the year, so this was the perfect stepping stone towards that.

“At first the task seemed a daunting one but with three water points – each with a self-packed box of personal items. – and nine water points along the way, it became about just focusing on one section at a time.

“Much like the saying, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time’, this became a case of ‘How do you do the 36ONE MTB Challenge? One water point at a time’.” explained Dreyer.

The warm Eastern Cape hospitality of the race organisers also meant the determined quintet were well looked after and felt at home throughout their eye-opening adventure.

“The people from the 36ONE MTB Challenge welcomed us with open arms – looking after our entry, food, accommodation, etc. – and just seemed so pleased to have us there; it was wonderful!

“It was also such a well presented event and is something completely different to the usual marathons or stage races than many people are now so used to.

“We’ll definitely be back again in the future!”

For Ntuli – now riding as a sponsored professional athlete for Merchants, a Dimension Data company – the Old Mutual joBerg2c represents his next challenge as he takes on the highly competitive men’s solo field while for the remainder of Dreyer’s RMB Change a Life MTB Academy, the Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival is next on the horizon before four CAL teams tackle the iconic KAP sani2c in May.