The dust is sometimes too much for Ari Seirlis. It swirls around him, chunks of soil pelting his face, dry air burning in his nostrils. The sun is scalding, and so is the engine on his four-wheeler. And Seirlis is in love.
September marks an annual trek for Seirlis: the Quads 4 Quads off-road ride in South Africa. This four-day excurion sets quadriplegic and paraplegic four-wheeler fanatics on a 1,000-kilometer trip from Carnival City to Ballito, through a variety of terrain and sweltering conditions. Sure, it’s a physical test. But for folks like Seirlis, it’s also a pure adrenaline rush.
“The heat is a big challenge for me, Seirlis said. “The dust also creates some safety issues, and sitting on the bike for a long time puts a lot of strain on me. I don’t have a very secure grip on the handlebars, so some of the technical sections are really challenging.”
But none of that stops Seirlis from this test of endurance, as he treks alongside friends new and old. “One of the most amazing things about this trip is the camaraderie and the support that I get,” Seirlis said.
Quads 4 Quads is the 2002 brainchild of Corinne Andrews and Glenn Foley, both of Family Adventures, a recreational adventure company based in South Africa. Andrews and Foley had been in business together as hosts of off-road rides since 1999, before deciding to aim their venture at changing people’s lives through volunteerism and donation.
“We decided that we were going to do something that nobody had tried before: a trip all the way from Johannesburg to Durban on off-road bikes,” Foley said. “There was much debate about this because I was convinced that it was virtually impossible. Then Corinne threw a real curveball and told me that we were going to ride for a cause and give our money away.”
The cause selected to benefit from Foley and Andrews’ endeavor would be Seirlis and his QuadPara Association of South Africa. Andrews and Foley took eight months to plan their trip, and drew 200 riders to the event. Seirlis himself did not participate in the first tour, instead meeting the Quads 4 Quads group at its destination for ceremonial purposes.
“It was a roaring success,” Foley said. “When we got to Carnival City in Brakpan and handed Ari a check for around $200,000, the reality set in, and one of the most positive initiatives in the motorcycle industry was born.”
The $200,000 Seirlis was given stemmed from a variety of sponsors who had signed up for the trip, as well as from donations and entry fees from the trek’s participants. The Quads 4 Quads group also made multiple stops along its route to distribute goods to needy communities.
Witnessing the success of the first ride inspired Seirlis to transition from recipient to participant. “I wanted to get back into a hobby and sporting activity and join my friends on their bikes,” Seirlis said. “It was important to give it my best shot to try and adapt a four-wheeler.”
For Seirlis, four-wheeling proved to be the very definition of an adaptive sport. Though he has weakness in his hands, Seirlis developed ways to exert pressure on the steering handlebars and to adapt the brake and accelerator. After some adaptive engineering, nothing could keep Seirlis from the trail.
Since its inception, Quads 4 Quads has grown to as many as 700 participants and has conducted round-trips from Johannesburg to Durban. This year’s event boasted 400 participants, though the tour was scaled back to a one-way trip to cut expenses. Along its impressive routes, Quads 4 Quads has continued to hand out a variety of items to needy communities—everything from soccer balls and stationery to wheelchairs and pressure care mattresses.
“It’s important to give back,” Foley said. “South Africa has some very poor communities and they need to see some value, so we target schools, clinics and community centers.” Foley estimates the group has distributed more than 100 wheelchairs to communities along its route. “I think that the fact that you can still ride your dirtbike for 950 kilometers from a point to another point without using any paved roads has caught people’s imaginations. Add to this the charity aspect and you have an event that really appeals.”
A portion of each rider’s entry fee goes to the QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA), and several corporate sponsors have provided donations of cash and goods to help offset the expenses of each year’s trip. Profits go toward QASA’s mission of providing a high quality of life for people with disabilities, with Seirlis himself serving as a high-spirited, four-wheeling example.
“All of the entrants in the last few years now have a good idea of what QASA does as an organization, and they’ve all been very generous to us,” Seirlis said. “The fact that I’ve managed to complete this event three times has inspired many other quadriplegics and paraplegics to participate.”
by Josh Pate
QASA – qasa.co.za