Climbing for the Cause


The gruelling Rhino Peak Challenge Trail Run is guaranteed to test the endurance of even the fittest athletes, but in spite of extreme weather conditions and not being used to such events, Mrs South Africa 2018 Nicole Capper conquered another ‘Rare Heights’ challenge – and it’s just her latest running exploit to raise funds for worthy causes. – BY SEAN FALCONER

When it came to prize-giving at this year’s Rhino Peak Challenge in the Southern Drakensberg on World Rhino Day, 22 September, there was only going to be one winner of the ‘Person Who Gave the Most to the Mountain’ prize, Nicole Capper. The reigning Tammy Taylor Mrs South Africa had pushed on through sleet, hail, gusting winds, rain and freezing temperatures to summit the iconic Rhino Peak and return to the start 81 minutes under her goal time of eight hours, and thus she helped raise over R350,000 for various conservation projects to protect endangered species around South Africa.

The event saw 10 elite athletes and 10 people of interest take on the climb, and Nicole says “Being invited to participate in this event as an influencer was such a privilege, and I am humbled to have been included. When Sibusiso Vilane suggested I participate, I jumped at the chance to not only get behind a cause I identify with, but it was an opportunity for us to run together ahead of the Everest Marathon, which we are doing together in 2019,” she says. (They were also both part of a fundraising group that climbed Mount Kilimanjaro earlier this year.)

“I knew I wouldn’t be the fastest, or the most technically proficient, and when it hailed three times and the icy wind was driving the rain into my face while I made my way up some of the steepest gullies I’ve ever seen, I knew I was out of my league. But when people have rallied behind you to raise funds and awareness for such an important cause, there’s a purpose greater than pain or discomfort. Thank you to every single person who pledged towards this Rhino Peak Challenge. It was one of my most rewarding and empowering experiences, because the mountains have a way of touching your soul and sending you home a little different to how you arrived.”

Platform to Influence
Besides being the reigning Mrs South Africa, Nicole (33) is a pharmacist, businesswoman, model, speaker, presenter, ambassador for Rare Diseases SA and an advocate for women’s rights. She is also mother of two children, Joshua (7) and Tatum (3). She says it was her passion for health and preventative medicine that prompted her to enter the Mrs South Africa competition, in order to use the platform to educate and create awareness around health and rare diseases, because her daughter was diagnosed with the rare disease, Cystic Fibrosis, at just six weeks old.

As a Rare Activist and the founder of Rare Heights, Nicole uses her fitness to raise funds and awareness for those without full health, by participating in sporting events and outdoor adventures all over the world. “I want to be a figurative ‘breath of life’ for those who struggle every day with rare diseases. For me, being Mrs South Africa is about so much more than notching up Instagram likes – it’s about having a purpose, and making a real difference.”

“Before this Rhino Peak Challenge I had never participated in a fundraising climb or run for endangered species, but I am passionate about our heritage in this beautiful country, and I use the outdoors as my training ground for my rare heights training, so it’s only right that I help draw attention to this incredible initiative. We are a land of ordinary people who dare to do extraordinary things. Our strength lies in standing together and celebrating each other’s successes, picking one another up when we fall, and daring to do great things in the face of great adversity. My Rhino Peak Challenge experience was all this and more.”

Chasing More Peaks
At the time of going to print, Nicole was already busy with her next Rare Heights challenge, the Nine Peaks, aiming to break the mixed team record for the fastest non-stop summiting of the highest peak in each of SA’s provinces. “The mixed team record stands at six days and 15 hours, including travelling between peaks, and we reckon the best possible time we could do is just over four days,” says Nicole, and from there she will go straight into a campaign of a different sort, an art exhibition at Melrose Art Gallery called Uprising, showcasing the human spirit.

Nicole’s training regime includes Crossfit five times a week and several 5km to 10km runs. She believes that although the physical challenge of the Rhino Peak Challenge pushed her to her limit, battles like these are fought more in the mind. “I want to be an inspiration to my children, an ordinary mother who is able to overcome challenges and achieve extraordinary feats. I had to overcome my fear of heights, so I want them to recognise that if I can be brave, can fight and accomplish things I never believed imaginable, then one day they too can overcome obstacles they didn’t think possible.”

IMAGES: Jetline Action Pic & Xavier Briel