When Okkert Brits vaulted six metres in 1995, he went where preciously few had gone before him.
Jumping six metres was the equivalent of walking on the moon – in fact, at the time, eleven had followed in the footsteps of Armstrong and only two in Bubka’s.
Although his gravity-defying feat was possibly not as much of a “leap for mankind” as was Armstrong’s, it was pretty special all the same and Okkert became the man of the moment.
One of my standout memories from his heyday was a photograph of him alongside his yellow BMW in the You (I remember thinking that jumping paid really, really well).
When Okkert moved to Port Elizabeth to pursue the girl of his dreams, it was big news and I set off to meet him at his future in-laws for the inside scoop.
He told me he had not been jumping for a while due to a nagging ankle injury and that he had picked up some weight.
Even though it is said that TV adds ten pounds, Okkert was much taller and beefier than I had expected.
I couldn’t imagine how someone of his build could do any form of jumping for a living and I could understand the burden of superfluous flesh.
Okkert explained that he had been riding the stationary bike at the gym at super high resistance to get back into shape but was frustrated by the slow progress.
So I explained to him that he couldn’t approach his fat-burning workouts in the same way as his power ones and gave him the low-down on LSD training.
He raised his eyebrows, in what I assumed was utter horror, when he realised how much time cyclists actually spent in the saddle and I sort of had the feeling that my advice would go to waste.
After his athletics career had fizzled out, I periodically bumped into Okkert at various charitable events and each time there was, well, more of him.
Then, shortly after appearing on Survivor, which did wonders for his mid-section for a while, he told me that he had been invited to ride the Absa Cape Epic and this time it was my eyebrows that did the lifting.
If cycling on a stationary bike was a stretch, I simply couldn’t see a happy ending to this story and I was secretly relieved for his sake when it didn’t pan out.
I was therefore mildly surprised when his named popped up on the entry list of the Rocky Mountain Garden Route 300 three-stager in Knysna last month, and even more so when he said it was in prep of the Cape Epic.
Having done both races last year, I knew what he had let himself in for and I was wondering whether his charitable drive hadn’t gotten the better of him.
My fears were confirmed when it took Okkert almost all day to finish stage one of the GR300, but I was equally impressed when he lined up for round two.
To willingly take it on the chin after the beating he took the previous day showed that he had loads of inner-strength too.
His day unfortunately ended when his frame buckled and then snapped and I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was cycling’s version of being saved by the bell.
But, then again, he has made a career out of achieving the unachievable.