The Supercows went first, before the yawning of the Johannesburg sun, leaving the main herd to fend for itself in the thicket of wheels and helmets. Moments earlier the throng of black and white cows had descended onto the start of the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge, like a scene out of Apocalypse Now, with Alex Jay’s granulated caramel voice replacing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.
Never before had there been such a sight of dangling bells and udders bouncing around bicycles with such daring bravado. 130 cows clanged their way to the start line. In their midst, eight ice-cream bicycles hovered in the pack, bearing eight sweating cowmen cranking the pedals with as much power as they could muster.
Today, Sunday 15 November 2009, would be no ordinary cycle race. Nor would it be an ordinary day. It would be a day of toil and hardships. A day of friendship and bravery. For some the path would be sufferable. For others, for those who made it, it would be a day of reckoning.
Why The Cows?
“Planning is for people who don’t know what they're doing.”
It was a motto. And it stuck. Doing away with protocol and red tape, the motley crew of mottled bovines permeated the psyche of a nation with their dangling red Rolling Stones tongue and their inability to say no.
The only thing that was set in stone was the figure:- One million South African Rand. At the time it sounded like a number plucked out of the sky, probably because it was. They knew this was the amount to kick start the Chris Hani Baragwanath project - a second CHOC house for kids getting cancer treatment at the nearby hospital. The thought of a house was a powerful image. And so the recruiting for additional cows began.
Word of mouth and guerrilla marketing tactics were employed with handfuls of gusto and dashes of courage to separate people from the money in their wallets. The ego was quickly set aside in exchange for cow suits and clanging tins. Asking people for money is one thing, asking people for a lot of money is something else entirely. It had to be done elegantly and with class, so that people would reach deep in their pockets for every last spare penny possessed. They will end up thanking you if you do it right – sincerity, panache and lack of subterfuge are imperative and go further than pointing to a large begging bowl.