By Michael Vlismas.

Professional golfer Hennie Otto and I have shared many experiences together.

There was that time we slept together. It was early in his career on the Sunshine Tour and we were at a tournament in Zimbabwe. He needed a hotel room, so we shared. A double bed.

I thought about this again recently after the Glacier Cradle Traverse mountain bike stage race in the Cradle of Humankind, and how sportsmen and women have no problem sharing even the smallest though extremely comfortable tent in a bid to do what they love.

Recently Otto and I shared another experience, though not at the same time. We both underwent a cryotherapy session. Basically, a cryotherapy session is like climbing Everest but without the losing toes part. Or the death part.

You climb into a freezing chamber and it stimulates all manner of healthy responses in your body.

We did it before the Cape Town Cycle Tour.

Hennie Otto celebrates during day 4 of the South African Open Championship in 2011. Photo by Carl Fourie/Gallo Images/Sunshine Tour.

Hennie Otto celebrates during day 4 of the South African Open Championship in 2011.
Photo by Carl Fourie/Gallo Images/Sunshine Tour.

Otto was riding the Tour as part of his Miles to Create Smiles charity ride of 600 kilometres from George to Cape Town and then tagging on the Cape Town Cycle Tour as well to raise money for disadvantaged children.

Cryozone had kindly offered him a seat in their chamber as part of their promise to get him race ready for the Cycle Tour. I did my session the day before. It was freezing. I think I saw Edmund Hillary in there with me.

I didn’t ride the Cycle Tour. The last time I did this I was passed on Chapman’s Peak by two men whose combined age must have been the over 200 beats per minute my heart rate was hammering at. They were on a red tandem, one of whom had his race-pack string bag on his bag and his partner was saying, ‘Don’t worry, George. I’m focusing on getting my leg down and through the pedal’. I never saw them again as I considered turning left and off the cliff into Hout Bay.

But Otto, of course, is an elite athlete. He decided on golf when he could easily have played professional rugby. He’s won 15 tournaments around the world, three of them on the European Tour.

He no longer needs to share a hotel room with me, because he can afford to buy the hotel.

But after his charity ride, he said something that really stuck with me. And perhaps it’s the same thing I see on the faces of those happy mountain bikers at the Glacier Traverse events.

On the indoor bike getting ready for his cycling challenge with Michael V

On the indoor bike getting ready for his cycling challenge with Michael Vlismas. 

“It was awesome. This was easily the biggest achievement of my life. I had tears when we crossed the finish line,” said Otto.

“I think why this achievement ranks highest for me is because it was for somebody else. It wasn’t about me. It was done to benefit disadvantaged children.”

Maybe it’s this fact that so many people ride the Glacier Traverse events and others for so many reasons other than just their own that puts that smile on their faces as they hurtle through the mud.

The Smile Foundation is a beneficiary of the Glacier Traverse events, and the series also raises money to help in the protection of rhinos. But I’ve also seen how a husband helps his wife along the route, or a friend motivates another friend. At the Glacier Cradle Traverse, leading economist Dawie Roodt rode with his business partner and said he felt it was a must-do as a way to really get to know a different side of your business partner.

Without going all Zen on mountain biking, these events are group therapy at their finest.

Now I need to see if I can convince Otto to join me on a tandem.