Willie Richards 500kmPlus Adventure for the animals

When you work on a field support vessel in the middle of the ocean, there are not many options to keep your mind and body entertained.  But we found out that Willie Richards decided to make the most his isolated situation and in the process help towards a much needed cause.  

PetHealthCare interviewed Willie to hear what made him run, swim, paddle and cycle more than 500km for the love of life and our animals.

1.   Tell us about you, Willie?

I am married to a beautiful wife and we have a wonderful 10 year old son, and a very sweet Airdale Terrier named Red.  We reside on the West Coast near Cape Town, South Africa and I work off-shore on a field support vessel.  I spend much of my time off-shore, but I love being active and doing sport.

2.  Let’s start at the beginning, what made you decide to do this adventure?

It’s very hard to take part in the local sporting events when you spend so much time on a field support vessel, so I decided that I would like to do something similar but on my own.  I wanted the adventure of getting out there and enjoying my sport and if I could not partake in these events, then I would just like to do my own extreme event.  That is how the idea started.

3.  Why did you choose Tin Can Town as your beneficiary?

Well, it was important for my race to have a purpose and I did some research on the various rescue organisations in and around my home town, to see if they could benefit from what I planned to do.   I wanted to find a low-key, fairly unknown organisation, one that could really do with more exposure and funding.  Big Corporates often look past the smaller non profits, and I started to narrow down my options.   I then met up with animal lover and activist, Ronel de Villiers who also works as a volunteer for Tin Can Town

Ronel introduced me to the group and I was very keen to learn more about what they do for the animals.  I just loved their mission statement:

• To treat the animals medical and nutritional needs.
• To identify problem areas and provide education and support to the pet owners wherever it is needed.
• To control pet population by ongoing sterilization drives
• To prevent disease by providing vaccinations against communicable illnesses.
• To provide foster and permanent homes for those animals surrendered by their owners
• To provide monthly art outreach classes to the children of the township for education and recreational purposes.

"We are pro-life, non-profit organization and will never turn our backs on an animal in need. If they have a chance at life, we will do everything we can to fully give them that chance.  We are accountable to the animals of Blikkiesdorp, to their owners, to our donors and supporters.”

I was also humbled by these regular people who started this rescue charity.  All of them have normal day-jobs, but spend most of their free time rescuing and saving lives.  I knew that I had found the perfect organisation to support. 

4.  Who were your sponsors? 

We sent out over 80 sponsorship requests, and 3 came back to us. 

  • NUUN SA sponsored Hydration tablets, but the value they gave me in product, I in turn donated on to Tin Can Town
  • Aqua Bella Water donated a few crates of much needed water.  I worked out how many I would need for my journey, and gave the balance on to the volunteers for their outreach days.
  • Dive Action gave a donation and lent me a Go-Pro and Suunto Ambit 3S waterproofe sports watch.
  • Pro photographers and friends Deon Maartins and Alfred Benz offered to document my journey, yet eventually they also provided me with hearty meals and much needed support for the entire trip.

5.  How many people donated to the cause and how much money did you collect for Tin Can Town?

I don’t know exactly how many people made donations, but I do know that the response was fantastic.  Most of my family, friends and colleagues also donated.  As of today (25 Nov 2015) I know Tin Can Town have received R17588, but even better news they say is that this figure is still growing.

6.  Let’s talk about the adventure itself.  When and how did you start training for this journey?

Most of my training took place off-shore on the field support vessel.  I had a 21m diameter helipad to run (in circles) and do some skipping on, and I ran up and down the stairs.  We also had a rower on board, so some days I would spend time on that too.  In the beginning I trained for 1 hour per day, but about a month before my adventure started, I pushed it up to training twice a day, before and after my shifts.  See the write-up done by  Lisa de Speville (FEAT SA) 

7.  Who was your back-up, during the whole trip?

Deon and Alfred were the best support I could ever have asked for.  They travelled with me throughout the journey, always giving me support and encouragement when things got tough.  They also took care of the food and accommodation arrangements during the trip.

8.  Happy birthday for the 18th of November! Right in the middle of your adventure... was it a good one?

Oh yes, thank you, it was the best day for me of the trip.  The day started with a 35km paddle up the Breede River from Witsand to Malgas, then a 17.87km cycle and 10.5km run to Bredasdorp.   My phone was buzzing the whole day, and I knew it was my friends and family wishing me well and giving encouragement, but I could not spend any time on my phone until I eventually reached my goal for the day.  My parents also came to meet me at Malgas, and that evening we had a lovely braai with family and friends.

9. What was the hardest part of the trip?

Leaving from Gansbaai to Hermanus was very hard.  I was cycling and it was raining.  There was a strong wind from the front and it was very cold in the early hours of the morning.  I could not see a thing, cars were driving past and splashing me, and the cold rain in my face was not fun.   The situation did improve when I did my transition at Grotto Bay to run along the scenic coastal path to the Hermanus New Harbour.

10. What did you enjoy the most?

The scenery of each stage was very unique.  I loved the remoteness of the beaches and the paddle down the Breede River was amazing.  The thought of the sharks breeding in this river encouraged me to paddle a little faster, but the sound of the fish eagles in the river is a memory that will stay with me forever.

11. Tell us about your naked fan on day 8?

Haha, yes that was Deon.  I had no clue he had that umbrella either.   Deon said he kept the umbrella for a day when he thought I was going to need it the most.  He could see that this was a very tough part of my route.  The Highlands dirt road has a relentless climb and I heard Deon saying he was going to join me for a short while.  I welcomed his effort, but did not notice he had no clothes on, only after he was right next to me.  It was so funny, and it really helped me get over this mountain indeed.

12. What gear did you use to help you complete this adventure?

I did not change anything that I would normally use.  All my usual gear was used such as my mountain bike, my surfski and my usual clothing.  I did however invest in many pairs of comfortable socks.  The only extras that I had with me were the borrowed gear from my sponsors, the GoPro and the SUUNTO watch.

13. Did you follow any special diet?

The truth is, when you work on a field support vessel, you can’t start to go for shortcuts.  I am used to eating good healthy food.  I did not use any supplements and stuck with everything natural.  My day started with a bowl of oats, bananas and a good cup of coffee.  En route I had water, nuts, dried mango, wine gums, apples and I love potatoes.  NUUN hydration packs  to help keep the electrolytes up and Rennies for the muscle cramps was all I needed as extras.  At night, my support team provided me with a good healthy meal.  I always ended my day with a few celebration Windhoek Lights.

14. Are you planning to do something like this in the future again? 

Yes, but Im not sure when though, as this is something that involves much planning and team work.  My wife and son supported me throughout the entire journey and I need to take them into consideration for my next adventure indeed.  My backup team, Deon and Alfred were fantastic and I would love to have them join me next time.

15.  What would you change when you do this again?

The accommodation is important, and next time I will prefer not to camp.  I would like to run more.  Access to much of our coast line was very limited due to privatisation, which meant I had to revert to the road with my mountain bike.  Hawston near Hermanus is a very dangerous area due to its rife gangsterism and poaching activities.  We experienced a near burglary in Gansbaai as all our gear was packed outside, but gladly nothing was stolen.

16.  Anything else you would like to share with us?

Yes, I would like to emphasise that this journey was not about me.  I wanted to do what I love most and that is my sport, but since I was doing it, I wanted to help the animals at the same time.  Knowing that I was doing this adventure for an animal in need also helped me make this dream a reality.  It gave my mission a wonderful purpose.

In 9 days (15 – 23 November 2015) Willie travelled more than his original 500km goal, he cycled 365km, swam over 4 river mouths, Ran 181km, and paddled 35km, making this a total of 581km to his end destination in Franschhoek.  Congratulations to Willie and your fantastic team, we are very proud of what you have achieved and thank you for doing it for our animals.

All images credit to Deon Maartins and Alfred Benz

Find Willie and his team on Facebook 500kmPlus


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