THE SHOOOPS STORY
Do you know what it feels like to connect – to connect to something bigger than yourself and to go there, trusting blindly? This story shares that magic of connection and the gift of experiencing hope.
Sidney Feinson’s vow to honour his friends by wearing red socks found its way to me. It resonated deeply. In 2007, on parting ways, my good friend Ian Symons and I gave each other a pair of red socks and vowed to wear them every Friday. By doing this small inconsequential thing, we consciously connect, remember our friendship, and are always together no matter where we are in the world.
I’ve realized that sometimes stories weave exactly as they’re meant to. In that spirit of connectedness, of synchronicity, things of consequence happen. But how do we make them last? And how much do they matter? Through my journey I want to forge and cradle meaningful connections.
THE SHOOOPS STORY
So begins this lineage of stories; a man who entrusted his life to an enemy civilian in WW2, (that enemy civilian was a heroic 17-year-old girl who kept that man safe), an impoverished ultra marathon athlete, a determined man who embraces these stories and seeks to connect South Africans through hope… In these stories we explore humanity it in all its complexity; kindness, passion, hope, courage, as well as its sharp and devastating edges. And as with all epic stories, this thread of hope is defined by the scary principle of trusting – yourself and others.
Let’s start with the incredible journey of Sidney Feinson, a man who gripped hope fiercely and survived World War 2. Sidney, a South African Jew, fought in and was captured during the Battle of Tobruk in Italy. He and two friends made a pact that should any of them survive the war that they would wear red socks to be together, to remember always.
Sidney escaped the concentration camp and was harboured by a young Italian woman, theoretically the enemy, who with the help of her small community, kept him safe until the war was over. Her name was Giovanna. Her principled choice to extend compassion was an unthinkable risk. Giovanna resonates how one small thing can impact so many people. Sidney made it home. He never forgot her kindness and vowed to return to her small town to thank her. He did, 29 years later.
We now meet Phil Masterton-Smith – ambitious young athlete who, in 1931 at the age of 19, was the youngest person to win the Comrades Marathon.
His nickname was “Unogwaja”, meaning “the hare” in Zulu. In 1933, he couldn’t afford the train-fare from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg and so he rode his bicycle. He travelled 1731km across the country. He came 10th in the Ultimate Human race that year. Financial restrictions did not curb his enduring hope. I doubt that Masterton-Smith would have imagined handing down a legacy. I think perhaps, despite restrictions, he simply believed in himself and walked his own path. There was no boundary for his hope. Masterton-Smiths arduous journey to the start of the race reinforces the belief that brilliance lies in the journey to the race. Sometimes that journey is long and seemingly insurmountable, but with courage and trust in yourself, you can do all things. His legend lives on in Unogwaja. Sadly, Phil Masterton-Smith was killed in the same Battle of Tobruk, perhaps even along side Sidney Feinson.
In the same spirit of cradling a legacy, and in Phil Masterton-Smiths footsteps, I founded the Unogwaja Challenge. The Unogwaja Challenge gathers a team of courageous people, building their own tradition, who travel 1731km by bicycle from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg in 10 days and then undertake to run the Comrades Marathon on the 11th day.
Unogwaja is birthed from these amalgamated stories, paying tribute to great men and women, you and me included, who continue to shape the story. Feinson’s Red Socks. The Hare. Giovanna. Red Sock Friday’s. Red socks for people with a bond on their journey. Each and every one of us on our own significant connected path. This story is a reminder that the journey is always more important than the destination. And that just the unchartered journey to the starting point can sometimes be the hardest.
Walk with us.