For many entrants to The 36ONE MTB Challenge the race is a personal trial, a battle to see if they can ride the 361 kilometres. But for Jonathan Odendaal, and his family, it carries far more significance. When he undertakes the final leg of the 2017 The 36ONE MTB Challenge for his family’s relay team he will be overcoming the odds, disproving doctors’ predictions and taking another crucial step on the path towards recovery.
Just two and a half years ago Odendaal was a tremendous athlete. He had completed four Absa Cape Epics and raced to victory in the amateur men’s category at the Cape Pioneer Trek in 2014. More pertinently though his children were aged three and three months when, on the 24th of October 2014 – just a week after his successful Cape Pioneer Trek – he was involved in a terrible motor vehicle accident.
Odendaal sustained a traumatic brain injury, his lungs collapsed and he broke his femur. Two months in the intensive care unit followed, after which he was transferred to a normal ward and then into a specialist rehabilitation facility. The doctors’ initial prognosis was not positive, they told his family that Odendaal would likely never walk again, or be able to perform the basic daily tasks which we take for granted every day but allow us our independence.
No two traumatic brain injuries are alike though and individual recoveries can vary tremendously. Odendaal’s mother refused to accept her son would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, and his family pulled together to ensure he would beat the odds. On the 16th of January 2015 he spoke his first words. A year of intensive rehab followed and a friend, Jared Tilley, built Odendaal a set of parallel bars to support himself while relearning the mechanics of walking, strengthening his legs and regaining his balance. On the 18th of December 2015 he took his first step on his own. By the 31st of January he was able to walk a few steps.
Odendaal used a walker to aid his unsteady balance, but he was determined to leave it behind. Gradually his balance improved and on the 31st of March 2016 he got back on the bike for the first time. Though unable to mount or dismount unassisted the milestones were stacking up and Odendaal’s progress towards his goal of being able to once again enter a mountain bike race were being realised. Currently his daily routine entails waking up at five every morning to cycling and then walk four kilometres, and then in the evenings he spends another thirty minutes on the treadmill. His next goal is to up the pace to a jog.
The 36ONE MTB Challenge will be Jonathan Odendaal’s first major mountain bike race since his accident. He will be riding the final eighty one kilometres from Calitzdorp to Oudshoorn alongside his brother, and old stage race partner, Bertus. Though Dryland Event Management and 36ONE Asset Management are exceptionally honoured that Odendaal has chosen The 36ONE MTB Challenge as the event to mark this key step on his road to recovery, his ability to spend time with his wife, Cherise, and children is far more important.
“He really is an inspiration and just comes to show that one must never give up and that one must believe in oneself. We have received amazing support from the community, friends and family. We are grateful for every day and happy to be doing all the things as a family” reflected Cherise Odendaal.
Jonathan Odendaal is an inspiration to the mountain biking community at large and Dryland Event Management would like to wish him the best of luck for The 36ONE MTB Challenge. You can follow his progress during the event on Twitter @The36ONE or on Facebook at The 36ONE MTB Challenge.