How a school teacher is taking his passion to his pupils
01 January 1970
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Gerald de Kock: Hello and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast. I’m very pleased you did. I’m sure that in the next 10 minutes or so we’ll keep you entertained from this wonderful world of mountain biking.
Where we speak to riders and people who are passionate about this mountain bike sport which has captured the imagination of so many in South Africa by virtue of the fact that it is so accessible in many ways. Also gets us out onto our bikes and into this wonderful countryside of ours and much of it starts very early on. Perhaps initially through the influence of parents who rode and their youngsters who would start riding.
More and more schools are making it an option, perhaps some of them more keenly than others. One of those is Paul Roos Gymnasium in Stellenbosch. The man who is currently in charge of mountain biking if you like or cycling at Paul Roos is Ben Puddu who joins me here. Ben thanks for joining me on a beautiful winter’s day in Stellenbosch. Mountain biking for you and cycling, I suppose has been a lifelong thing that you now find yourself in charge of at Paul Roos.
BP: Hi Gerald, thank you for so much for having me on the talk show. It’s only been about four years that I’ve been cycling seriously. The bug bit me when my brother always challenged me and told me he wants me to ride the Epic with him one day. So my dad got ill and my life changed a bit.
I decided I want to get fit and change my situation and I started cycling and the bug bit. I wanted to go faster and do more and so I started riding with the kids at the school. I’m fortunate enough to ride with the boys doing what they love and doing what I love and so the competitiveness started.
GDK: I take it you’re a teacher then?
BP: Yes, I’m fortunate enough to be at Paul Roos itself and I’m teaching technology and engineering graphics and design and I’m head of cycling and water polo.
Taking the healthier route
GDK: All right, so you talk of a bit of a life changing thing there in making that decision. So it goes a bit deeper than just wanting to cycle with the kids, doesn’t it?
BP: Yes, it was about five years ago my dad had a quadruple heart illness and everything and he didn’t have a healthy lifestyle if I could say that. I just decided I don’t want to go that way. It’s one of those decisions that I made and I changed my life there and then. I started cycling and my lifestyle as you know is much better now.
GDK: Yes, riding now with the kids, we’ll get to another story about your involvement and what you actually do with the kids. But I mean that, I suppose must be fantastic and quite challenging. Because some of them are pretty keen and they don’t know the meaning of pain some of them.
BP: Yes, it is very challenging at times. You can imagine riding with 40 kids and keeping your hand on each and every one of them. But it is fun at the same time and you learn more things about the kids than what you learn in class. You get to know them in a different way and they open up to you. It’s just such a blessing to be with the boys riding every day and just enjoying the environment.
GDK: So, the challenge from your brother was to ride the Epic with him one day, how long did it take you to meet that challenge?
BP: Well, 3.5 years. My brother has been riding his lifelong but he’s more an endurance type rider. So he loves going very, very fast downhill and very slow uphill. I’m kind of the opposite, I love going fast uphill and fast downhill as well.
I was fortunate enough to enter a competition the end of last year for USN and on Twitter and I sent a couple of photos in. I was fortunate enough to win the competition and my promise to my brother was the first Epic that I will ever ride will be with him. Although I’m much stronger and faster than what he is, I wanted to do it.
Great to ride Epic with my brother
The first experience with him and so I won the Epic. It was such a great, great, great thing to do with my brother, although he didn’t like it that much, but it was so awesome. Next time hopefully if I get an opportunity again I’ll do it in a different way. But the first one was so special doing it with my brother.
GDK: It’s one thing riding with the kids on their training rides and preparing them but it’s another thing preparing and actually completing. Epic and this last one that you did was particularly, every one’s challenging but it was a hard one. So how did you go about getting, you know up in that level and getting to the state that you could take on technically and physically?
BP: Well, to be honest I didn’t really train that hard with the boys at the beginning of the year. Doing the intensity stuff and things with them. I’m more training with Leonardo and Linus van Onselen, the famous van Onselen family.
GDK: They’re friends of the podcast on the Old Mutual Mountain Bike. We chatted to Linus this year.
BP: I’m fortunate enough, very blessed and very fortunate to be helped and coached by these two. So training with them basically did all my training. We basically rode every day in the mornings before work, and after work two hours or an hour and a half just cutting in time in the saddle.
Weekends long hours and we work in the intensity into our ride. It’s just the way they train and somehow it works very, very well. Yes, and basically the Epic is 80% your head must be right and 20% must be your fitness, that’s basically what it is.
GDK: Did you get into a dark place at all in the Epic with your brother?
BP: Day Three was very dark. There at the back where the sand is towards Wellington and you get to the bridge or the pass to go over. They take you a different route, that was a very dark hole. Then it was challenging the last day when my brother had a tummy bug. It was very horrible because he couldn’t do anything and I had to push and pull the whole time. But we managed to finish and we did relatively well, yes.
What did you learn from the Epic?
GDK: You’re a teacher so you teach the kids, did the Epic teach you anything?
BP: Respect. Yes, there’s so many things that it taught me and I learnt more about myself. To sit eight days on a bike for five hours, four hours a day, it’s a different story to two hours. You have to dig deep to go do that and enjoy it like we did. It was awesome.
GDK: You’re not from Stellenbosch I take it?
BP: Yes, I am.
GDK: You were born and bred here?
BP: Well, I moved here when I was in grade seven, standard five those days. We came from Cape Town, yes.
GDK: You didn’t ride a mountain bike then.
BP: No, never, I played rugby. I was about 25 kilos heavier four years ago than what I am now.
How has mountain biking changed your life?
GDK: So if you had to take all this, then what has cycling and mountain biking given to you? I know we talked about the lessons from the Epic but you’re involved with it in work, you’re involved in it as your passion, how has it changed your life tangibly or not tangibly?
BP: Oh, I can’t, there’s so many things that’s changed. I mean thanks to mountain biking I met my wife. Yes, if I had my lifestyle that I used to have she wouldn’t have bitten. Yes, great friends that I have, people that I meet, places I go, routes I ride. I get to know the kids obviously much better, yes there’s so many things.
GDK: This is something you can impart to the kids.
BP: Yes, for sure. No, there is nothing better than teaching something to a kid that he loves doing.
GDK: Well, you’re clearly passionate about the riding as well.
BP: Yes, I love it. No, it’s my life.
GDK: And the teaching?
BP: Also. The teaching is where I started with it all, so obviously teaching a kid something which he appreciates and to see the result afterwards is amazing.
GDK: Yes, well it’s wonderful to hear. We’ve got this sort of bridge between someone who’s ridden the Epic and obviously passionate about it. Bridging across to the young aspirant riders and those who want to take it on. So Ben Puddu thanks very much for chatting to us from Paul Roos. He runs cycling and water polo and teaches in the mornings as well. Rides his bike in the morning and evening as a family, he’s a busy man like us all, but manages to fit in this great sport of mountain biking. Ben thanks for chatting.
BP: No problem, thanks for having me.
GDK: Ben Puddu, who was chatting to us today on our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, thanks for downloading this edition. Please do so again and whilst you’re on your bike ride along and greet those along the route. It’s always nice to have a friendly wave and a smile and a chat with someone you know or you don’t know. That’s after all what mountain biking is all about. Till next time, cheers.