Social gathering grows into a cycling academy in two years

Imveli Cycling Academy cyclists include, from left, Luthando Meintjies, 17, Archie Zakhe, 15, Luvuyo Msuthu, 14, Mohau Meneli, 15, and Simiselo Nelani, 15
Picture: Werner Hills

More than 150 cyclists ride under Imveli’s name, finishing well in events

What started out as a social gathering in a Motherwell park with only 10 children and just a handful of bicycles two years ago has now turned into a fully-fledged cycling academy with more than 150 cyclists on board.

Imveli Cycling Academy’s home is in Kwazakhele, but its riders come from throughout the metro, including Zwide, Motherwell, Uitenhage, Walmer and Central.

The young academy has made a name for itself in the cycling community of Port Elizabeth.

Its cyclists finish in the top three in every race they take part in, both in provincial and district competitions.

The group practises from Tuesday to Fridays every week.

Lukholo Badi, 36, who started the project solely from his own pocket, said the aim of the academy was to give children from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to compete on an international platform.

“Imveli Cycling Academy formally started in 2015 with 10 kids,” he said.

“I used my old bicycles to train the kids, as I am a cyclist myself and also participate in Ironman.

“Now we have more than 150 kids, male and female, with their ages ranging from eight years to 21. Kids join at an average of two to three per week,” Badi said.

“The aim behind the academy is to educate the kids to become better people. Our main vision is to give those who can the opportunity to go and ride at a professional level and in Europe.

“We have also been rated as the best academy within the Eastern Cape and our riders have won many medals in the previous year.”

Badi, who is also the Eastern Cape Cycling president, said beside not having a workshop to fix their equipment, finance was their biggest challenge.

The academy survives on handouts from individual cyclists as it does not have a main sponsor. The club has also received a helping hand from the Mandela Bay Development Agency and The Herald Cycle Tour.

He said the municipality had also promised to assist them.

“Race entries are a bit of a challenge. Cycling is not cheap as race entries can go as far as a R100 per person per race. “We are struggling financially. “Transport to go to these races is also an issue. On race day if, for instance, the race is in Greenbushes and starts at 6am it means we must wake up at 4am and then leave the house at 5am.

“We ride from the clubhouse to the venue and we still have to compete in the race competition.

“So, our kids sometimes are tired or cannot be competitive, but through all the hassle our kids manage to get podium finishes in all those orders.

“But some of them struggle, especially the young ones,” he said.

“In the next couple of years we would like to get a proper space in terms of infrastructure, where we will have demarcated rooms for boys and girls and a proper functional kitchen. A well-structured place to run the academy.

“At the moment we are crammed in a four-room house with only two bedrooms. Some of the kids have to sleep in the lounge area during our weekend camps, due to space.

“We would also like to have a team participating continuously in all our national events around South Africa. But our main aim is to ride in Europe. We would like to have a youth festival tour there,” Badi said

Ideally, they would also like to see the academy grow in numbers. “We would love to be in the right position when we receive new kids, because when they come in and they don’t get what others have, they get frustrated,” he said.

One of the Imveli’s top female riders, Vuyolwethu Grootboom, said her dream was to become a professional cyclist.

The 14-year-old, who looks up to professional cyclist Anriette Schoeman, said she too would like to compete among professional riders and also win races one day.

“I joined the club last year and it was the best decision for me. I am very passionate about sport.

“I saw the Imveli riders one day on the road and I knew I wanted to be part of them.”

Another top-of-the-crop rider is 15-year-old Simiselo Nelani.

He said cycling had kept him out of danger.

“There are so many bad things that happen to people on weekends and cycling has kept me away from that harm.

“What I like the most about cycling is that you get to travel a lot and meet new, different people. Since joining the group last year I have found a second home in Imveli,” Nelani said.

“We just took part in the Knysna Cycle Tour two weeks ago. Our next big race is the Daily Dispatch Cycle Tour, which will take place on August 27, but before that we’ll take on the Spur Schools challenge on August 12,” Badi said.

He called on business around the metro to come on board and assist the academy.

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