Young Cape Town-based hand-cyclist Zach Legward wrote himself into the record books when he rode the Momentum Knysna Cycle Tour 50km in early July. We heard about his story just before his incredible ride and wrote this piece for the July edition of the mag. – BY BRENDON LOWSON
The recent fires that ravaged Knysna in the Southern Cape claimed a number of lives and left many homeless, but the whole country applauded as the people of Knysna courageously picked up the pieces and said the show must go on. That started with the announcement that the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival in mid-July will go ahead, including the cycling events on the programme. This means that 10-year-old hand-cyclist Zach Legward will still have the opportunity to take on the 50km road race of the Momentum Knysna Cycle Tour, and if he completes the race, he will become the youngest hand-cyclist in SA, possibly even in Africa, to race that distance.
Zach was born with a condition called Gastroschisis, where an opening forms in the baby’s abdominal wall and the bowel pushes through to develop outside the baby’s body. He was operated on shortly after birth to remedy this, but post-operative complications saw an infection spread to his lower spine, which left his legs paralysed. As a result, Zach has always been confined to a wheelchair, but like most boys, he always wanted a bicycle, so his dad, Geoff, made him a hand-cycle three years ago.
“Unfortunately, you can’t just walk into a shop and buy one, so we made him his first one out of two steel BMX bikes, very much a sit-up type,” says Geoff. “Two years later, because he had grown so much, we made him a proper race bike. You can get bikes out of the USA or UK, but they cost between R60,000 and R200,000, and each one has to be custom-built for the athlete’s disability. It took us five months of late nights and hard work to finish his bike, using pictures and dimensions downloaded from the Internet, but now he is flying. I think he likes cycling because it gives him freedom. He loves the speed – going downhill we have seen his bike do 50km/h, but I start getting a bit nervous – and he also just loves riding through puddles of water!”
Besides allowing Zach the opportunity to get out and participate in a sport he loves, Geoff says they are seeing some really positive physical changes in Zach. “He seems to be getting feeling in places he has never had before. The medical experts say it’s potentially from the increased cardio-vascular activity, which is forcing blood circulation to his nerves. Nobody really knows, but we are definitely seeing some changes slowly happening.”
Earlier this year Geoff wrote to the Knysna Rotary Committee that organises the cycling events at the festival to ask for permission for Zach to participate in the road race. He wrote that Zach has ridden the Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge three times and won gold in all three events, and he has also ridden the Cape Town Junior Cycle Tour twice and recently did the Gun Run. Most importantly, he explained that Zach can handle the distance and will be looked after during the race, if given permission to ride.
“In training his coach and I ‘box him in’ for his safety, so he is supervised 100% all the time, and our intention is to have a four-man team ride with him in the 50km. We were training 13km with him every second day, which he handled easily, so we increased his distance to 20km, with 30km rides on the weekends, all of which he still handled with ease.”
The Rotary Committee duly gave Zach and his support team not only permission to participate, but free entries. Meanwhile, Geoff has promised to give Zach R10 per kilometre he completes. “I would like to challenge other cyclists to also sponsor Zach R10 per kilometre. These funds will be given to a charity for disabled children, and we also want to use some of the money for the Knysna fire victims as well as the South African Sports Association for the Physically Disabled.”
Justifiably proud of his son, Geoff says that “Zach has a never-say-die attitude and is scared of nothing. He swims, scuba dives, rides a quad bike, flies radio controlled planes, and is a very happy little boy. He never wakes up in a bad mood, and is always smiling. He wants to go to the Olympics one day, and riding Knysna will hopefully be a big step towards that.”
If you are interested in sponsoring Zach’s ride and fundraising efforts, Email firstname.lastname@example.org.