Monday, November 19, 2012

Feedback on Doping Article

Apologies again for the delayed reply. I loved your article.  It gives good perspective on a complex issue. - Dr Louis Holtzhausen, Head: Sport and Exercise Medicine (SA Olympic Team Doctor 2012)

Monday, November 12, 2012

The economics of doping – why it pays to cheat [FINWEEK, November 2012]

By: Nick van der Leek
There is no question, our attitudes to doping are schizophrenic. While we deplore elite athletes who use performance enhancers, most people can’t start their day without one. One commercial company, Nestlé sees growth particularly in nutritional products that emphasise health, well-being and fitness.  Others go a step further. The maker of Creatine brag on its product labels that users of the product have previously won Olympic gold. Given society’s approach to nutrition and obsessions with appearances (from appetite suppressants used by teenagers to plastic surgery across the spectrum), it’s hardly surprising that doping is on the rise. ASA president James Evans notes skyrocketing numbers of positive tests amongst SA athletes of late. “I don’t know what’s going on,” Evans said in October 2012, “but doping in South African athletics is becoming a serious problem.”

Read the rest here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Feedback from GQ, Your Family and Country Life

"Professor Tim Noakes got in touch with me for a copy of his article. He asked me to thank you and mentioned that the article was great. So thank you for that."
- Colleen Goosen, Managing Editor, GQ

"Thanks for all your effort Nick, we love your stories."
 - Kate Turner, Managing editor, Your Family

 "Thanks so much. It’s perfect. Really great story."
 - Julia Lloyd, Sub-editor, SA Country Life (referring to an article on Pieter Wenning)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Barefoot Running - published in November 2012 Fitness Magazine

Zip-Zapping Around the World - published in ABOUTIME magazine

Herman and Candelaria Zapp and their four children have arrived in South Africa after 12 years and more than 200,000 km on the world’s roads. Nick van der Leek went to find out why they are still chasing faraway places.
Herman Zapp and his wife, Cande, have been on the road since January 2000. Their adventure is chronicled in their book, Spark your Dream, an ongoing saga which is now in its 4th edition (the Spanish imprint, a bestseller in Argentina, is now in its 8th edition). In the opening pages, in which they describe the day they left Buenos Aires for the first time, Herman writes: “On the one hand, I feel fragile, on the other hand, very powerful, because I’m going for my dream.” Four children were born along the way. The oldest, Pampa, is ten years old, while the youngest, Wallaby, is just three.
In July 2012 they arrived in South Africa having made a virtual circuit of the planet. Most astonishing of all is that their vehicle of choice is a Graham-Paige – an 80 year old vintage car with rims which more closely resemble bicycle wheels than car tyres.
Did it take some convincing to embark on an intrepid adventure in a car built in 1928? “The car was the best choice,” Cande says. “I didn’t want it at the beginning,” she admits, “but Herman convinced me.”
The South African leg of their world tour started in Durban. “Once we got the car, we went straight to the Drakensberg. The first town we stopped at was Underberg. We stopped at the supermarket to look for camping supplies, and right away the people of the town were so wonderful! Someone offered us a farmhouse to stay in, another a free ride over the Sani Pass,” explains Cande. And according to Herman, South Africa’s towering landscapes did the job of making the family’s spirits soar.
Keeping costs under control is a priority for the family and, as a result, over 2,500 families around the world have hosted the Zapps. And it turns out that these experiences, when families rooted to a particular corner on some suburban street encounter perhaps the least rooted family in the world, are the most memorable of all.
Has it been plain sailing the whole time? “When we were in Australia, we met many South Africans, and they told us to watch carefully over our things, and sad to say, we’ve already been robbed. We may have avoided it if those people had told us to watch out for baboons,” laughs Herman. It is this wry sense of humour, as well as their love for the outdoors, that seems to make the Zapps perfect travellers. But there is something else: An almost childlike curiosity; a raw sense of wanting to go and see what’s out there; and being open to the possibility of being thrilled by being in the world.
How many South Africans know their own mountains? Or have sweated along a steep trail and found, at the end of it, beautiful San paintings carefully crafted against a wind worn rock overhang? It is this opportunity to see the world firsthand that the Zapps have seized upon, and it is hard to argue that it isn’t intoxicating. The Zapps’ family snaps capture this in a nutshell: the six of them stand with their hands outstretched, in a series of impossibly exotic scenes. Their campy poses say: “Here we are in the world.”  It’s a happy celebration of being alive. For the Zapps, being alive means putting doubts aside, getting out there and chasing dreams. Their dreams are literally places that sound like they are worth seeing.
Where have they been that was particularly worth writing home about? “If you asked me about the most adventurous moment,” Herman says, “I’d say it was on the Amazon River. With the help of some people we built a raft, and then we loaded the car on it and navigated through the Amazon (from Ecuador to Brazil). In one month we went down the river with two aboriginals who taught us where to go and what to eat. We ate ants, crocodiles, monkey (in an aboriginal wedding), piranhas and many different kinds of food. Each day we had problems with the canoe’s engine. We had to fix it ourselves, because we were in the middle of nowhere. We met people over there that had never seen a car before in their lives. Because they didn’t recognise our money, we traded with them for food.”
The Argentinean couple say their favourite countries so far have been Australia and New Zealand. “I loved New Zealand especially. The people there are all amazing, good people. And you have no idea if someone there is wealthy or not,” says Cande.
From the Drakensberg the Zapps have travelled to Saint Lucia, taken in a car show in Johannesburg in early August, and have plans to move down to Cape Town in November. You get a sense from the Zapps that if you are going to dream, you might as well make it a big one.
The Zapp’s book ‘Spark Your Dream’ is available from and
Story by Nick van der Leek

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Slow down and smell the sunflowers

 Words: Nick van der Leek

I have a knee injury courtesy of a road accident in 1990. Basically the dashboard of the bakkie I was in chomped my knee during impact, dicing out a banana peel of skin just above the kneecap.

That injury serves a reminder at how dangerous and damaging a single road incident can be. The message is: even if you survive, the damage tends to be lasting. It involves a rape of the body – if not the mind – which can last a lifetime. Yet anyone who walks away from an accident can count themselves lucky. Many thousands do not.

14 000 road accident deaths on South Africa’s roads are 14 000 too many. A simple math calculation shows that 14 000 deaths equate to almost 1200 deaths every month, almost 40 a day. If those numbers appear meaningless, imagine a classroom of people wiped out every day. What a waste when all of this is preventable.

The strategy until now has been to focus on the four methods of prevention: wear a seatbelt, control speeding, prevention of drunk driving and driver fatigue. But has it been effective? I don’t disagree with the methods of prevention, but recommend a more holistic approach (inclusive of these strategies). To change behaviour comprehensively, we need something beyond a rule book. We need to change our beliefs about what constitutes happy motoring.

Before we move on, two explicit points should be made. Firstly, South Africans have in the past been vociferously opposed to additional limits on speeding. Having travelled to Australia, a country almost ten times the size of ours, with far better roads, superb public transport infrastructure and half the population, the speed limit there is 110km/h. It’s not 110km/h give or take 10km/h. It’s strictly enforced. In fact on one occasion as we were leaving Perth’s city limits a squad car, lights flashing, actually pulled us over for exceeding a 90km/h speed limit. We were going 92km/h.

The argument, including by the AA, is that speed alone isn’t responsible for road accidents; there are many other causes. True. But that argument is as ridiculous as the alcoholic who claims smoking is worse than drinking as a way to bargain for the right to continue doing something that is ill-advised anyway. Smokers do the same thing, arguing that drinking is worse than smoking. All they gain is the right is make no attempt to do anything, which I maintain is foolish and unacceptable given the realities on our roads. Let’s face it, the accident I was in that nearly tore off my knee took place on the outskirts of Pretoria. We were travelling at roughly 80km/h in a 60km/h zone. The accident happened due to a combination of speeding by my friend (the driver), and impatience, due to someone jumping a traffic light ahead of us as soon as it turned yellow.

More recently someone told me about a biker (on a superbike)who claimed to make the trip from Johannesburg to Bloem in just over 2 hours, and from Bloem to Kimberley’s city centre (180km) in 40 minutes. An ex-girlfriend of mine had one side of her face bludgeoned by a rogue motorbike crashing through the centre of their kombi one night. She’s already had 8 painful reconstructive surgeries. The same accident killed her sister. I’m not sure whether she’d be impressed by his achievement. The point is: none of us should be. As it stands, the statistics show that when human factors are associated with fatal accidents, speeding is the culprit 30% of the time. Exceeding the speed limit is also becoming increasingly expensive – it simply wastes fuel. So it makes absolute sense to drive slower.

Which brings me to the bottom line. In order to address the malaise of negligent driving on South Africa’s roads, from everyday recklessness by minibus taxis, to the everyday cheeky driving by everyone else, we need to inculcate a new value system for our roads. Respect for life is a great place to start. People seem to have a healthy respect for the ocean, and are quickly cowed by reports of fatal shark attacks, even when there are one or two each year. Yet we don’t have similar respect when driving, despite classroom-sized casualty levels every day. Why?

I believe we need a culture that is based on the idea of Protect the Weak. The belief that life is precious needs to be rediscovered. One of the best ways to develop sensitivity to other road users is to ride on a bicycle. After all, the biggest casualty on our roads isn’t drivers killing each other, but people in cars driving into people. I maintain that if all road users are forced to cycle to work for one day in the year, behaviour will begin to change. There’s a way to enjoy driving without racing. Stop often. Photograph roadside birds. Have a picnic. After all, one of the benefits of taking one’s time to get from A to B is having a better quality of life for the rest of one’s journey through life.