Stefan Terblanche, formidable all-rounder who played 37 caps for the Springboks between 1998 and 2003 joins the South African Merrell team for GODZone Adventure in New Zealand to have the game of his life on a very different playing field.
It just so happens that a NZ rugby legend will be out there too and Merrell captain Graham Bird was tasked with finding a suitable Springbok for the challenge to be held in the remote southwest corner of New Zealand.
“This is a race that could see us out there for seven days, racing virtually non-stop, unsupported, up and over the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps, carrying inflatable packrafts so we can paddle across glacier carved lakes and ocean flooded valleys. We’ll be wet and cold; mountain biking and trekking across areas considered inaccessible. It will be spectacularly beautiful but it’s not an easy sell to anyone who doesn’t embrace raw adventure.” Said Bird, respected AR veteran and captain of South Africa’s most accomplished team, rated among the top ten in the world.
Entries for the seventh chapter of the GODZone race sold out within hours of opening. A record 100 teams secured their place making it the largest field ever, thanks to the spectacular location and the event’s reputation for hardcore excellence as well as the progressive nature of the development of the sport in the country.
Rugby could be described as ‘elegant violence’; a game were stamping on somebody’s head isn’t totally frowned upon. There’s nothing graceful nor glamorous about Adventure Racing where virtually the only combat is with oneself. For days on end a team tries to minimise the agony of self-imposed torture of the body and when finished they fall asleep.
So realistically, how suitable is a rugby player for the task?
Graham ‘Tweet’ Bird doesn’t follow the game with the pointy ball. “Naturally I just chose a wing” joked Bird. “Stefan Googled ‘Adventure Racing’ and agreed, (after a friend told him he’d be mad not to take this opportunity) and he leapt immediately into training.
Then I asked my media lady to write a press release and she literally howled with laughter as she, in turn, Googled him.” Said Tweet shaking his head.
There were promising quotes found in articles; “I love training. I always try to stay fit, healthy and maintain a balance” but overall he didn’t come across as a natural born endurance athlete.
The great try scorer with one of the best Springbok finishing ratios was recently quoted in Men’s Health as saying the secret to his success is “Sleep. Sleep, sleep some more and sleep again, and when you don’t think you can sleep anymore, try and grab a little more shut eye. I honestly slept through my career; on planes, buses, in the team room, sometimes in team meetings.”
“I like fishing, I love reading, art and big cities. I also like shopping; I was raised by my mom and two sisters.”
Verbatim, these are the words of the imposing new guy brought in to challenge arguably the toughest adventure race on the planet.
“I hate being cold and wet so at any time during the event we are cold and wet I will have to dig really deep.”
Fiordland, at a latitude of 45˚South, where the sun only has a part time job, can boast an average 8000mm – that’s 8 metres – annual rainfall.
It seems Stefan will be digging like a demented mole down to the very depths of his deep reservoirs to find the vasbyt to get through it, but the CEO of SA Rugby Legends Association is not shy of a challenge.
He has driven the acclaimed Vuka development programme to great success whereby young players, coaches and referees from previously disadvantaged areas are being trained and provided the opportunity to participate in national tournaments. He’s climbed Kilimanjaro, completed the Cape Epic cycle tour and Ironman 70,3. He even tackled Jonah Lomu and survived to father three children – who are all super excited to be involved in his next adventure as the holidays have been spent in training together, which means playing at sea on his new Fluid Kayaks and exploring the trails of the Wild Coast.
So although the sports are poles apart, they pivot on the same fundamental understanding. “I loved and still love pushing my body. Once it’s gone to that tired, dark place once – you’re never going to be afraid to go there again.” said Stefan and admits “I have learned in professional sport that one must never be too proud to let your team mates help you. You will be strong and weak at different times and you will need one another to get through it together.”
There along with Bird to guide him past the sleep monsters and tell bad jokes through long nights will be stalwart athletes Grant Ross and Jane Swarbreck. All have raced similar terrain in Patagonia and between them have the experience and war stories of 35 expeditions.
“Endurance comes in many forms and it is all accomplished with the right attitude. Stefan knows what it takes to compete at the top level and the hard work it takes to get there and stay there.” Said Bird
“Having a rugby legend in our midst is both intimidating and inspiring. We are really looking forward to having some fun with this race and the different dynamic. It opens up our sport to a whole new audience and Stefan’s fans will get to see him out of his element.
“But don’t underestimate his ability, a Shark out of water can still do a lot of damage!”