George Airport has this week seen its largest influx of athletes living with physical disabilities who will participate in the annual Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge. The race, which takes place this Saturday, has again attracted top international athletes as well as hundreds of local incumbents. This year, more than 1 500 athletes of all shapes, sizes and levels of fitness will participate in this year’s event. Airports Company South Africa is a lead sponsor of the Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge (OCC) which the George Municipality has led and facilitated over 15 years.
The race is the only event exclusively for athletes living with physical disabilities. The race categories include the standard marathon distance of 42.2km, a half-marathon course of 21.1km, a 10km course and 5km Fun Run. Athletes are permitted to use a variety of equipment which includes racing wheelchairs, adapted bicycles, hand cycles, basketball chairs and ordinary wheelchairs. Amongst this year’s participants are Ernst van Dyk and Delia Lubbe, who currently hold the 42km men’s and women’s titles respectively.
The race is organised by the Disabled Road Race Foundation, in association with South African Sports Association for Physically Disabled (SASAPD).
Brenda Vorster, manager of George Airport who has sponsored the race several times and says a key interest this year will be to see how the wheelchair athletes cope with various changes to the course route.
“While the race distances are the same, it will be really interesting to see how the winning times compare to those of previous years”, says Vorster.
Vorster says the event is now a firm favourite among residents of the town. “It’s always a great event for our airport staff and the whole of the George region because of the many places where spectators can watch from close up and see just how strong one has to be to complete this race. The event really brings our community spirit when we see the hundreds of people from George who volunteer to help run the event.
“In a town such as George where the airport is an integral role player in the tourism economy, we are truly privileged to be able to practically demonstrate our support for the town and our ethos of moving people and changing lives.” says Vorster.
She concludes that while George Airport has always been compliant with standards on accessibility for all passengers, the thousands of wheelchair athletes that have used the airport over the years have offered many helpful recommendations on further improvements to our infrastructure. This has resulted in the airport being amongst the best in terms of disabled accessibility within the country”.
Ansie Swart, OCC organiser, says the sponsorship of the event by George Airport has helped to ensure that the race can grow in both stature and number of entrants. “When we started out 15 years ago we had just 27 participants. Now we have grown to be a major event in the region. This year we have athletes from several countries in Europe, North America, Australia and the rest of Africa. Having a committed supporter in the form of George Airport not only makes perfect sense but also helps highlight the cause of mobility for people with physical disabilities,” she says.
Vorster believes the event highlighted that George Airport has the capacity and ability to support the increasing numbers of visitors using it as a gateway to the Garden Route and the surrounding region.
“Last year was a record year for George Airport. We had more than 727 000 passengers through the airport and we became the first in the country and one of the first in the world to switch over to solar power. Our infrastructure continues to show that we can support this critical access point to the heart of the Garden Route so we hope that the wheelchair athletes will keep coming back in ever greater numbers,” says Vorster.
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