On Sunday, 21 November, thousands of cyclists took to the streets to conquer 947 Ride Joburg. But there was one cyclist among them who took the challenge to the next level, Nkosi Mzolo; a firefighter, a mentor and an inspiration.
In an incredible display of strength, Nkosi completed the 97 km race in his full firefighter bunker gear; trousers, a jacket (both with three layers of heavy fire retardant material), a safety helmet and his breathing apparatus — weighing a total of 21.5 kg.
2021 was the third time he rode in his full uniform. “This year I rode to raise awareness around the increasing attacks on emergency responders in South Africa. We’ve been robbed, hijacked, tied up, held at gun and knifepoint — all while on duty.”
“In some situations, we’ve had to run for our lives, run for cover to save ourselves. I’ve lost colleagues due to these attacks. It’s becoming unsafe for us to do our jobs because people don’t respect that we’re there to help.”
Earlier this year, ENCA reported that attacks on emergency responders — firefighters, paramedics, SAPS — are being recorded at the highest levels in five years. “We are deployed to help people and communities in need but we also need the community to have our back. I hope my story will help bring some attention to this and maybe people will start to appreciate what we do out there.”
Nkosi has completed 947 Ride Joburg six times. “It’s become a tradition — I plan to do it every year. And even though it’s the only race I do, I’ve gotten a special road bike for the occasion. About two weeks before the race, I dust off my bike and start getting used to being on the road again.”
He goes on to say that this year’s race was tougher than he expected. “10 km in I was battling, I could feel this was going to be a long day in the ‘office’. My biggest challenge was the oxygen cylinder on my back. Besides the weight, it was very difficult to move or stretch my back — I had to ride in the same position the whole time.”
“The weight of the helmet was also a challenge, it was constantly dragging my head down. But I just continued to tell myself that this was all in my mind, I must just hang on, I must keep on going.”
Another reason why he decided to ride was to motivate and challenge his fellow emergency responders. “A lot of people out there depend on us, so we must always be ready when that bell rings. Getting tired can’t be an excuse. I wanted to encourage my colleagues to stay fit and always be prepared.”
Nkosi also rode to inspire a group of youngsters that he mentors in Soweto. “I teach them to canoe. And with them looking up to me, I feel the need to make sure I never disappoint them. I have to lead by example, I must be the best version of myself, I must face new challenges and use those stories to motivate them.”
“I also have a good support structure around me. They’re always there to share their support. Knowing that there’s always someone behind you, someone backing you up, makes mentoring the kids easier.”
He goes on to say that he often gets asked ‘how did I do it?’. “I have to try new challenges to motivate the youngsters, I have to fail myself to know what’s possible. I do what I can so that I can say ‘I’ve done it’ and motivate those around me.”
Thank you, Nkosi, for sharing your story, for your service as a firefighter and for being a true inspiration to all!