A call to be courageous drew athletes to the Meerendal Wine Estate this weekend. The seventh edition of South Africa’s largest obstacle racing series, the Toyota Warrior Race powered by Reebok took place on 21 & 22 October.
With the Cape’s severe water restrictions, the Warrior Race decided to exclude water obstacles from the Meerendal event. This did not faze adventure-seekers, however, as they set off to tackle some of the most scenic trails that the country has to offer.
The addition of new obstacles brought a thrilling twist to the event. The Black Ops Elite category found ‘Vol Emmer’ to be particularly interesting, an obstacle that involved a steep slope and heavy carry. It was at this point in the race that Elite athletes were challenged to earn their DQ bands for the first time.
An extra element of fatigue was added to the already demanding route, and Black Ops Elite series leader, Claude Eksteen, was the first to vouch for that.
After arriving back from Canada two days prior to the Meerendal event, Eksteen set off with jet lag and heavy legs in hope of sealing up the Warrior Race championship.
Arch rival Thomas van Tonder had the same determination, however, and was aware that if he managed to defeat Eksteen, he would stay in the competition for the series title.
Eksteen kept van Tonder at bay for the majority of the race until he reached the infamous ‘Breaking Point.’ As he struggled to make his way through a set of floating handles in windy conditions, Van Tonder made his attack and crossed the finish line with a hard-fought victory.
“My legs felt good until I reached Vol Emmer, which pushed me to my limits and ultimately sent me over the edge. By the time I reached Breaking Point it was incredibly windy, so as I reached out I missed one of the floating handles. I guess that’s the beauty of this sport – a small element can separate you by a big margin,” said Eksteen.
The battle for the series title will be settled at the season finale in Riversands next month. It will be an even playing field for the two athletes who have proven to be strong in different areas:
“I’m usually stronger on the run while Thomas is faster on the technical obstacles. Warrior Race Nationals always challenges us in both areas, though, so it’s going to be quite a showdown!” added Eksteen.
Team Merchant’s Hlelani Radebe placed second in the event and Team Nevarest’s Greg Avierinos took third.
Breaking Point caused an upset in the elite female category too. With series leader Trish Eksteen out of the mix, Carina Marx raised her hand as the lady to beat. Victory was within her reach when she arrived at the testing obstacle, but encountered the same wind-swept handles that lead to Eskteen’s demise.
Marx was soon passed by Dominique D’Oliveira, who had deliberately taken it easy on the run after suffering from several asthma attacks this year.
D’Oliveira approached Breaking Point in fourth position, shocked to have even caught up to the leading group of women: “I couldn’t believe it! The pressure was on so I stood there, took a deep breath, and said my prayers. I managed to get through on my first attempt!” she said.
After a challenging season, a beaming D’Oliveria added: “I haven’t won a Black Ops race in three years, so this is a big deal for me. I’ve discovered that anything can happen in this sport, and that the race isn’t over until the finish line. I left today’s results in God’s hand, and He really came through for me.”
She was followed by dark horse Michelle Merand and Carina Marx, who managed to finally conquer Breaking Point and finish the race in third.
Merand, who surprised spectators by snatching the second spot on the podium, had a clear message about her achievement:
“Being on the podium does not define your ability to be a WARRIOR. The true achievement lies in bettering your time and conquering more obstacles with each event. Unleashing that determination is what this sport is all about!” she said.
Her words rang true as a group of high school students gathered in awe to watch athletes blaze their way through the sprint obstacle course, which was included in the Black Ops Elite route for the first time.
Many inspired youngsters signed up for the sprint team race that took place later that day, and one such team even managed to make it all the way to the final heat of the event!
Carina Marx stepped onto the course to teach the newcomers some tricks of the trade, and showed a petite young lady to tackle an obstacle that was almost double her size.
“This is the future of our sport, and the more people we can inspire to get involved the better,” said a proud Marx.
Next on the Toyota Warrior Race powered by Reebok calendar will be #WARRIOR8 in Riversands, Gauteng. Join in on the action and prove why ‘everyone can be a WARRIOR.’
For more information visit www.warrior.co.za
BLACK OPS ELITE PODIUM RESULTS
1 Thomas van Tonder 1:32:35
2 Hlelani Radebe 1:33:09
3 Greg Avierinos 1:33:21
1 Dominique D’Oliveira 2:09:57
2 Michelle Merand 2:54:10
3 Carina Marx 3:35:10
For more results visit https://www.saseeding.org