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Para-cycling world champion’s horror fire experience
- Updated: March 6, 2015
By Mark Etheridge
World H2 hand-cycling champion Justine Asher has already had more than a few of life’s curve-balls thrown at her… and this week’s fire horror in the Western Cape was just the latest.
Paralysed from the neck down in a motor accident while still a teenager, Asher has adapted to living life largely from the confines of a wheelchair. That is when she’s not cranking out the watts with the wind in her hair on the roads of Noordhoek, Cape Town as well as competing around the globe on the para-cycling circuit.
This week’s devastation which saw more than 5000 hectares of nature scorched, touched all and sundry with its fiery tendrils.
And Asher was on the frontline of the action, as the flaming juggernaut roared down on the rustic seaside suburb – forcing her and other families to be evacuated in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
Shortly after the brave firefighters had made it safe for the families to return to there ash-covered homes, she took time out to take Road to Rio 2016 readers into the heart of the fiery fray.
And she feels she has emerged with a new look on life in general and a new-found belief in the of principles of humanity and ubuntu.
‘When you find a purpose for a greater cause than your own, you have found true salvation. I discovered that the true heroes amongst us are the men and women on the street willing to give freely of themselves, sacrificing their time, resources and own life for a greater good or cause, going unnoticed without any recognition or reward. There was many a ‘hero’ amongst us here in our Noordhoek community over the past few days when the fierce raging fires ravaged our mountainside.
‘I was woken up early hours of Wednesday morning by my husband [Shaun] who was standing night duty with our neighbourhood watch, to evacuate our home which was now a considered to be in a high risk disaster zone. ‘The confusion of being woken up at 1am to be told we need to evacuate was exasperating. The task of rounding up my daughters, cats, dogs and parrot, bundling them all into our car with a few items of clothing, toiletries and some essential documents, along with my wheelchair, and leaving everything else behind was daunting.
‘We were relocated along with over 300 other households to an open rugby field out of danger zone with a view of the Noordhoek mountainside.
‘Everything seemed surreal, as if I was in a movie with Steven Spielberg special effects, or in the middle of a nightmare. I watched from my car as the monstrosity of fire ravaged our mountainside, moving quickly down towards Monkey Valley and spreading across the top of Beach Road, with loud explosions of fire in amongst the flames and smoke.
‘It was soul destroying, my heart broke as the devastation unfolded, realising there was nothing I could do to save it. All I could do was pray.
‘But the thought of people out there risking their own lives in trying to bring this almighty fire under control was so humbling. The photos of sheer exhaustion on their blackened faces which were later posted onto our social networks reflected their commitment and absolute dedication.’
Asher reckons she’ll take new inspiration out of the disaster and going forward.
‘In reflection I realised that the importance in life is not what you have or what you achieve, but what you are able to give of yourself and the difference you are able to make in this world. My prayers were answered the following day when the glorious skies opened and the rain poured down on our beautiful Noordhoek.’
In recent times other South Africans have also been affected by fire. Olympic open water swimmer Jessica Roux lost their home in a fire at St Francis Bay in late 2012 and World Games gymnast Bianca Zoonekynd and mom/coach Mandy’s family home burnt down in Port Elizabeth earlier this year.
Picture courtesy of Shaun Asher