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R50 000 and the trip of a lifetime

2017-05-11

Diepsloot MTB Academy riders William Mokgopo and Phillimon Sebona won the Exxaro special jersey race at the 2017 Absa Cape Epic … and now it is changing their lives.

On Thursday they were handed their trophies and prizes: R50 000 from Exxaro to spend on educational opportunities or other life improvement initiatives and a stay at one of the world’s foremost elite sports performance academies.

Mokgopo and Sebona, both 25-years-old, will soon be spending eight days at the Bakala Academy in Leuven, Belgium, and rubbing shoulders with elite athletes from around the world. Among them will be the Etixx Quick-Step professional road racing team – currently performing so well at the Giro d’Italia.

“This is the best opportunity I have had in my life,” Sebona told a press conference at Klein Constantia yesterday. “It will help us to train and prepare ourselves in the same way as proper professional athletes.”

Mokgopo said he was “very excited … this trip is going to help us learn a lot and is a growth opportunity for me”. He was looking forward to “using what we learn to help ourselves and others back home to grow and develop”.

Exxaro chief executive officer Mxolisi Mgojo handed over R25 000 cheques to each of the duo and explained the motivation behind the sponsorship of the jersey for riders from previously disadvantaged backgrounds who are under 26-years-old.

“The essence for us was about liberating the mind … to where you can say I am capable of doing anything,” said Mgojo. “If your mind has been enslaved for many years you doubt yourself.”

The coal and heavy minerals mining company launched the Exxaro MTB Academy in 2011 and its riders have graced the Absa Cape Epic ever since then.

This year riders from three other academies – the Diepsloot MTB Academy in Gauteng, the Change A Life Academy in KwaZulu Natal and Songo.Info from Stellenbosch – were given entries and another 10 were available for sponsors. As a result 19 teams – 38 riders – took part in the race for the Exxaro jersey.

Mgojo said he was delighted to see the expansion: “For us this was never just about Exxaro. It was about opening up the sport. This is about transforming a sport and helping transform a nation.”

He added that “it is my dream that one day we will see the Exxaro jersey wearer also in the red jersey (presented to the top all-African team)”.

Diepsloot Academy chairman Andre Ross pointed out that Diepsloot had the highest incidence of rape “in a country that is the world capital of rape” and this gave an insight into the achievement of Mokgopo and Sebona.

“Guys like that provide a deterrent to complacency … they become beacons in their community. The success of a few create a momentum that pulls everybody else along.”

Asked if they would be racing the Absa Cape Epic together again in 2018, Sebona answered immediately: “Definitely.”

Absa Cape Epic founder Kevin Vermaak said: “There have been moments along the (race’s) journey that I have been very proud of and this is one of them.”

The handover to Mokgopo and Sebona was the culmination of initiatives that had begun seven or eight years ago and had “grown their own wings”.

The race for the special jersey had grown consistently since its launch in 2012 and “it’s no secret that the competition for it was more competitive this tar than ever before.”

The Bakala Academy describes itself on its website as an “athletic performance centre” and a “research and testing centre of excellence”. It has a reputation as a world-class academy for research, innovation and education in sports.

Bakala have agreed to host the Exxaro jersey winners for the next three years.

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