South African amputee athlete excels in extreme sport
18 November 2016
A South African athlete from Johannesburg is about to make history in the sport
of extreme obstacle course racing, a gruelling variation of cross-country running
that is inspired by military bootcamp training.
Hannes Brits will become the first South African amputee to compete for a
second time in the 17km long, 30-obstacle Black Ops Elite race, South Africa's most
gruelling race category of this extreme outdoor sport.
The full competition event, gathering participants from all over the country, will
be held on 19 and 20 November 2016, at Legends MX sport venue outside Pretoria.
Brits has already completed against able-bodied and other disabled athletes in
the Commando and Commando Elite divisions over the past two years. He has been
building up to competing in his second Black Ops Elite race, making him the only
amputee to compete at this level in South Africa.
Obstacle course racing
Obstacle course racing (OCR) is an extreme sport in which competitors – either
as part of a team or individually – attempt to overcome various physical and
environmental obstacle challenges over a long-distance,
Obstacles include wall-climbing, carrying heavy objects over distance and
negotiating water obstacles, all while enduring extreme environmental conditions
such as mud, mountains and unpredictable weather.
The sport, started in the late 1980s by cross-country runners in the United
States, is largely
inspired by the methods of military infantry training, used to test
endurance, strength, speed and dexterity.
The sport also involves elements of long-distance running, as well as cross-
country and road-running. Notable international OCR events include the
Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, held in the United States and Europe. There are
over a million competitors, both professional and amateur, around the world.
The various race intensities of the sport mean that professionals and amateurs,
men and women, young and old alike, can find races that best suit their fitness
levels, and that offer opportunities for them to build up towards more challenging
South Africa's Warrior Races event includes Rookie, Commando and Black-Ops
levels, as well as a special under-12 youth level, Bratz.
The Black Ops Elite event, the most advanced level on the local circuit, covers
17 kilometres and features 30 obstacles, six of which are water obstacles. The
event is a solo event, testing each competitor's personal resolve, wits and fitness.
World according to Brits
Brits competes in races on specially made sport crutches. His left leg was
amputated in 2010 following a number of medical challenges that dogged him
throughout his life. The loss of a leg, though, seemed to inspire him to
own abilities in the most extreme way.
"The world I knew before I had my leg amputated was limited," Brits said in a
statement released by Warrior Race ahead of the Pretoria event. "I could never
partake in any sports or outdoor activities in fear of the smallest injury to my leg,
could send me to hospital.
"(OCR) was a new world that had been opened up to me and today I am able to
partake in physical activities. This whole experience has been a big wakeup call for
The athlete believes that you can never be too old to pursue dreams and hopes,
and by his example he hopes to become a true sporting representative for
physically disabled people. He also wants to encourage more amputee athletes to
get into OCR so that they can also push their limits and inspire those around them.
Brits wants to use his sporting success to motivate others. "I have a real
passion for helping people," he says. "I would love to speak to children in schools
and orphanages to inspire them for their future success."
His ultimate message for a world unfamiliar with the sport is that
in the races are apt metaphors for overcoming any challenges life might throw at
you: "No matter what obstacle may be in your way, there is always a will to make a
way but one needs to still carve that way. If we look at a situation and think we
can't, then we won't. But if we look at it as a challenge and we look for a solution,
then we will find the solution and we will ultimately achieve success."
For more information about Hannes Brits, the sport and how you can show your
support, visit Warrior
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South African athlete Hannes Brits is the first amputee to compete at the highest level of the punishing Warrior Race extreme obstacle course running competition, to be held in Pretoria 19 and 20 November 2016. (Image: Hannes Brits Facebook page)