Heart Transplant Recipient and CEO Charge their Batteries for 2024 KAP sani2c Trail

With less than a week to go until the 23 April start of the 2024 KAP sani2c Trail, heart transplant recipient, Billy Macleod and his teammate Steph Bester, CEO of AllLife are ‘tapering’ when it comes to their training. ‘Team Change of Heart’ remains firmly focused on achieving Billy’s goal of becoming the first heart transplant recipient to attempt (and finish!) sani2c.

The brand new sani2c Trail is of course the e-bike edition of the iconic race, but as Billy says “It’s not a motorbike, you still have to work!”

Dispelling misconceptions

Billy is correcting a common misconception about e-bikes, which is that you simply sit back and let the bike do the work. However, unlike a motorcycle that is propelled exclusively by a motor, an e-bike is an electrically assisted pedal cycle (EAPC) whose electric motor only assists the cyclist while they are putting in the work.

Teammates Billy and Steph are old hands when it comes to cycling, and sheepishly admit that they used to look down on e-bikers. While Billy’s heart transplant pushed him firmly, quickly and definitively into the e-bike convert camp though, Steph says it has been more of a struggle for him.


Overcoming mental hurdles

“Mentally, it has been a stretch for me to get onto the e-bike. I still find myself switching off the engine at times, when I get close to strangers,” explained Steph. “But I have to admit that I’m actually really enjoying it and my ego is getting smaller and smaller. I did a monster ride a couple of weeks back, with five hours on the bike and 2000m of climbing, and instead of being in slow mode for two to three days afterwards, my recovery time was less than 24 hours.”


Aiding injury recovery

In sports, injuries either knock you out of the game or you find new ways to play it. Steph says that if he’s honest with himself, the glute injury he sustained 18 months ago, which still plagues him on longer rides, would probably have sidelined him from the race: “Without the e-bike at this stage I’m not convinced I would be able to do a stage race without aggravating the injury, so it’s a really helpful tool for anyone who’s recovering from injuries but still wants to participate in bigger events.”


Technology to the rescue

Billy, as mentioned earlier, is all-in when it comes to e-bikes: “After my transplant, one of my biggest goals was to become an e-bike ambassador. I knew I would never ride a big race again without one I was struggling, trying to control my heart as best I could, and I could not ride up a hill.”

Things took a turn for him when Mohammed, owner of Bobby’s Cycles set out to help Billy achieve his goal. He connected him with Cannondale, who made the solid decision to bet on Billy, and have sponsored him an e-bike for sani2c.

“Nobody can understand what I’m talking about, until they’ve ridden an e-bike themselves. It’s the most amazing ride ever. My cardiologist can’t believe my average heart rate on this bike! It’s perfect for me and my donor’s heart, and in general just tremendous to see how technology can help people like me as well as those recovering from illness. E-bikes also bring families together; now weaker riders can also spend time riding with their loved ones,” said Billy.


Nutritional strategies

Of course it’s never just about the bike. It’s also the rider, and how the rider fuels themselves in the build-up to and during the race. Billy of course must always pay special attention to his diet, while Steph has the luxury of tucking into a packet of NikNaks after a weekend ride.

Billy explained, “I can’t just take any supplements or energy drinks, and the like. There is so much that can affect my medication, especially my anti-rejection meds, and that’s not a boundary I’m willing to push. I would love to eat a medium steak or better yet, biltong, but I much prefer being able to keep telling my story!”


On-the-bike fueling

On-the-bike nutrition for long rides like the team can expect at sani2c, is another thing entirely. For that, Billy will be taking limited amounts of gels and protein bars as a pick-me-up but says fruit cake is his ‘magic potion’. The cake will help him maintain his glucose levels, which are negatively affected by his medication. Steph, in turn, will be taking a liquid carbohydrate supplement, race food bars and some jelly babies during the rides. He will also have some gels in reserve for what he describes as, “in case of emergency, pull the glass – especially on day two!”


Humour will get them through it

It’s good to see that Billy and Steph still have a sense of humour this deep into their training, though we’ll have to see how that holds up after day two’s ride. Speaking of which, how many gels and bars do you think they’ll consume? And will their e-bike batteries last for all of day two with its 97 km distance, 1485 m of climbing and descents of 1855 m? Only time will tell!

Inspired by Billy? To learn more about organ and tissue donation, and register to become an organ and tissue donor, visit the Organ Donor Foundation at www.odf.org.za. .

You can also follow Billy and Steph’s journey to and through sani2c on Instagram and Facebook.

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