Omphile Motaung is a passionate young black female cyclist. At age 25 Omphile became the youngest and first woman of colour to complete the grueling Race Across South Africa (RASA) Freedom Challenge, a 2150 km race from Pietermaritzburg to Paarl in 21 days. With only five years’ experience in ultra eventing, she has tackled some of the world’s toughest mountain biking races such as The Munga in 2021 and the ABSA Cape Epic, where she won every stage in this year’s Amateur category with her Exxaro MTB Academy race partner.
Omphile’s talent and determination are helping her to break barriers in the cycling world and she is on the brink of stardom.
Omphile is also a cancer orphan. She uses her passion for cycling to help others like her who have lost a parent to cancer.
Omphile recently partnered with Icon Oncology to raise awareness about cancer within her own and other communities, she does this by sharing her personal story and emphasizing the importance of early detection and prevention of cancer and available treatment options.
Omphile recalls the impact of her mother’s diagnosis of cancer in 2007 on her own life. Omphile’s mother, Mantoa Motaung, never disclosed her illness to anyone because she was ‘used to taking care of everyone’. “The thought of being taken care of was a ‘foreign concept to her as with so many other mothers.” says Omphile.
In 2012, things took a turn for the worse. Montoa told her daughter that she was sick with epilepsy, a condition she was diagnosed with prior to her cancer diagnosis. Omphile would remind her mother every month to travel to Bloemfontein to see her doctor, not knowing that it was a regular check-up for her leukemia.
At the tender age of 14 Omphile watched her mother, a strong woman who had followed the meaning of her name Mantoa “fighter” become weaker. She could not afford home based care and Omphile provided this care for her. Watching her child take care of her was painful, she would feel guilty and helpless as the role of caregiver had been unfairly reversed. After years of battling the illness, and just after Christmas in 2012, Omphile’s mother passed away.
Omphile’s story is not new nor unique. Many children in our country, who come from disadvantaged backgrounds like Omphile, must juggle school with taking care of their parents when they become ill.
“Although the immediate impact is on the patient, when a family member is diagnosed with cancer it has an effect on the lives of many people, and it is especially difficult for children. When we heard Omphile’s story we were moved by her bravery and determination to make such a positive difference despite all she has been through. Her compassion for people living with cancer and drive to make a difference resonate with our value of compassion,” says Beverley Sebastian, who heads the socioeconomic development committee at Icon Oncology.
Fortunately, Omphile met her foster father, Lesley Massey, who was a top Free State cycling champion when her mother died. This is where she discovered her love for cycling. “I would ‘borrow’ my father’s road bike after every Tour de France and got into trouble for bringing it back with a puncture and often got grounded for sneaking out of the house at night for a ride.” adds Omphile.
Cycling has been her escape from her trauma. She’s pushed herself to compete in some of the world’s biggest and most gruesome races. Last year she completed the 1000 miller (1640 km) which she finished in 8 days, cycling from Vereeniging to Cape Town. The previous year she attempted the world’s toughest cycling race, The Munga, which is 1130km single stage race across South Africa from Bloemfontein to Wellington in the Cape Winelands. What makes it even tougher is that it is raced in the heat of summer through the arid Karoo.
Omphile says she takes pride in both her victories and failures, “I’ve been winning and losing all my life. The important thing is to get started and not let fear make you miss out on amazing opportunities”.
Through the work that she does, Omphile hopes to guide those that are walking in her shoes and facing the adversities that she once did. “I want to walk this journey of cancer awareness for a lifetime because it’s not only about me but everyone who is affected by cancer. You may not be able to take away the disease and the pain but giving your love and support to those affected will help make a difference”, adds Motaung.
“We are privileged to help Omphile on her journey to stardom. She is a role model for many of the most vulnerable youth in our society and we are immensely proud of the awareness and education work she does” concludes Sebastian.