While the devastating scope of the #KnysnaFires shocked and awed us, it is only now, when the personal tragedies come to the fore, that we can grasp the immense impact that this disaster had on some members of our industry. Among those who will always relate to life before and life after the fires are the members of the Merrell Adventure Addicts team, personalised t-shirt printing company SilentK and events organiser Magnetic South.
It is difficult to grasp the concept of losing everything. Yet, these members are not only philosophical about the destructive impact on their lives, but are committed to start afresh.
Even though the fire forced the Merrell Adventure Addicts to withdraw from the 2017 Adventure Race World Championships in Wyoming in August, team captain Graham Bird retains his sense of humour. He suggests that they should in future be known as the Merrell Metal Addicts because “the hardest/toughest/finest steel is forged in the hottest fire”.
The Knysna team members – Bird and Hanno Smit – not only lost all their personal property, but the fires also destroyed their business property and the pine plantations that was Smit’s livelihood. “When life gives you lemons, you make lemon pie, we all know that,” Bird says philosophically, who admits that it can be difficult to find that pie recipe amidst the smouldering ashes.
“With just six weeks to go, and with the last two already up in smoke, neither Hanno nor myself can apply ourselves properly to training,” Bird said earlier this week. “There’s just too much restorative work to be done here.” They also don’t want to let down their team mates, sponsors and supporters by not being properly prepared to compete at a level that would do justice to their world #6-ranking.
“Merrell have always encouraged us to Do What’s Natural, and right now that is to rebuild our lives,” says Bird.
Instead of competing in the World Championships, they will use the time to develop adventure racing as a sport in South Africa by hosting training camps across the country. Bird will also stage an epic old school expedition race in the Western Cape later this year. This Vasbyt adventure event has already generated plenty of excitement amongst old and new adventure racers. And the Merrell Adventure Addicts will be back in full force to show their metal at the 2018 Godzone event in NZ in February, which is on every adventure racer’s bucket list.
Another Knysna business that was burnt to the ground, the Silentk Clothing Co., has vowed to rise up and soon start hand-printing its own lekker local as well as business and sporting event branded t-shirts. “We will be roaring back to life with new stock and design before you know it!” promises owner Andrew Jones.
His first design will be for a t-shirt line to raise funds on behalf of the firefighters and charities who supported victims.
Their home, printing machines and remaining stock were all lost in the fire, which destroyed everything except a Buddha in the garden, says his wife Tessa. But, fortunately, this time of the year the t-shirt stock was quite low. They had already delivered stock of the Otter Trail, Whale Trail and other lighthearted, truly South African-message, t-shirts to local retailers.
While they fearfully watched the fires approaching, the Jones’ grabbed their dog, passports and some bits and pieces of clothing. In hindsight, they should have rescued paintings, photographs and other items with precious memories, says Tessa, as they were inundated with clothes and basic necessities donated by well-wishers. “We’ve received great support from suppliers, clients, friends and family.”
And in true #knysnarising spirit, the Featherbed Trail Run will go ahead during the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival, even though all the well-known trail routes have been affected by fire, says Mark Collins of event organiser Magnetic South. “We’re calling it the Bayport Phoenix Edition, and it will be simply unforgettable.” (Bayport Financial Services is the new headline sponsor).
The original event course and format has to be abandoned, “but this new concept honours the amazing fighting spirit that currently burns stronger than any fire in our town,” says Collins. “It is possibly going to be the most incredible event we have ever put on, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” The trail run is scheduled for July 11th.
He is therefore appealing to trail runners from across the country – and world – to come and support the Oyster Festival. “No one in our town is unaffected by the fires,” he says, “but the financial and logistical support for victims has been nothing short of phenomenal.”
Collins says that what the community needs most now is to feel normal again. “That is why we are going ahead with this event.”
The BIG5 Challenge multi-sport event, aimed at the athletes who push the limits to where mere mortals fear to tread, will also go ahead during the Knysna Festival. Maserati has recently come on board as sponsor of the challenge that consists of five different events over the course of 10 days, which will also raise money for the Knysna Relief Fund. Among these events are the Momentum Knysna Cycle Tour MTB Race and the Momentum Knysna Forest Half Marathon.
The Knysna Tourism Board has appealed to the public to support the town by attending the annual Oyster Festival from 7 to 16 July in order to help restore some of the more than 2 500 jobs lost as a result of the fire. Although 252 bedrooms and just over 500 beds have been lost in the fires, there are still 4 000 beds available to visitors, says Elmay Bouwer, chairperson of the Knysna Tourism Board.
If that is not enough, establishments in nearby Sedgefield and Plettenberg Bay will provide accommodation and a shuttle service.
“We need to see our restaurants and pubs overflowing with festival goers as they always do,” says Collins. “As much as we are still in shock there is an undercurrent of excitement as new plans, ideas and beginnings beckon.”