PMB pupil is racing to success

2009-04-09 00:00

EIGHTEEN-year-old Sboniso Ntombela heard two weeks ago that he had qualified to represent South Africa for the SA Junior Men’s race in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup being held in the city this weekend.

“I was very, very excited,” he says. “Half of me had expected it, but half of me didn’t, I was so nervous.”

Ntombela was born and grew up in Sweetwaters. His mother Clementine Mncwabe is a domestic worker. “I have three brothers — though one has passed away — and four sisters. I’m the youngest in the family.”

Ntombela says he grew up cycling just like any other boy. “I would ride with my friends on our BMXs. I really developed a passion for cycling. Then my mother bought me a second-hand mountain bike and I started cycling more seriously.

One day in 2006 on his way back from Sibongumbomvu Combined School near Cedara the 15-year-old Ntombela encountered a man marking a cycle trail. He told Ntombela it was for the upcoming 10K Jowetts Classic and urged him to come along and race. So Ntombela did just that. “I sprinted the whole way and I came first.”

Ntombela had achieved his win without any formal training and the race organisers acknowledged his potential by presenting him with a full cycle kit. “I started cycling even more seriously then as I realised that I might have what it takes to be a champion,” Ntombela says.

Ntombela then met Allegra and Johann Wykerd, owners of the cycling shop Maverick Cycles in Hilton. “They organised outrides for all levels of cycling, so every Saturday I joined them for outrides so I could learn from them and improve my skills.”

In 2007 Ntombela joined the Maverick Cycles grassroots team along with a cousin who has since had to take a step back from cycling to concentrate on his college studies. “Johann and Allegra started taking us to races — up until then we had never had transport to be able to do that.”

Ntombela’s contact with the Wykerds coincided with the time they were setting up Life In Motion, a Section 21 non-profit organisation particularly aimed at helping young people realise their potential. Both Allegra and her husband had spent many years as top cyclists.

“The time had come to put something back after our years of experience,” says Allegra. “You can’t keep it for yourself, you’ve got to give back to the kids. Life In Motion was constructed to create a spirit of giving back.”

“Racing all over South Africa, we were always seeing kids with untapped potential,” she says. “But we felt restricted, not able to fully concentrate and develop this potential as a part-time concern in Life In Motion. We felt really strong about this. So two years ago we sold our shares in Maverick Cycles and since then I’ve been able to concentrate full-time on the Life In Motion projects.”

Life In Motion recruited Ntombela as its youngest member of their grassroots mountain bike team.

Life In Motion is now involved with a number of projects, including the De Beer’s Child Care Facility in Havelock Road, and in sponsoring Ntombela, especially with regard to his education. Allegra says they soon realised that Ntombela’s dedication to cycling reflected other qualities.

“A person’s dedication and discipline at a sport is mirrored in the rest of their lives as well,” she says. “You’re not going to be really lazy in sport and then excel in life. Sboniso is like a sponge, he soaks up everything and he has ambitions beyond cycling.”

Allegra tried to find him a school that would meet his aspirations and Ntombela was accepted into Grade 11 at the Heritage Christian Academy in Prestbury where his studies are sponsored by Life In Motion while his cycling activities are sponsored by PSG Konsult (where Johann works), Pure Adventure Wear and W.Squared Cycling.

“My vision is to be a scientist or a medical doctor,” says Ntombela. “So I needed to go to a school to improve my grades.”

Ntombela says his main interest is in exploring the world of science, especially chemistry — “through chemistry you can change everything. I like reading science books about atoms and stuff.” For lighter reading he enjoys the thrillers of Jack Higgins. Plus he’s also a fan of motivational books.

“Being a cyclist you need a lot of motivation,” he says. “If you try to aim for something and you fail you lose motivation. Motivational books helped me realise that you don’t always win and to deal with that, and they also give me the courage to believe that one day I’ll be at the top.”

Top cyclist or top scientist, either way the future looks bright for Ntombela.

“All this has come out of cycling,” he says. “This is all the benefit of cycling.”

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