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07 Sep, 2015

Cycling for Go Purple

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Suellen Sheehan will have plenty of support from other 50 Shades of Mud riders during her Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge Ride for a Purpose.
Suellen Sheehan has had many challenges in her life. Now she is taking on the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge.
50 Shades rider Jean Reynolds and Suellen Sheehan riding the Cradle together.
After recruiting riders for Go Purple, Hermien Greyling, Jean Reynolds, Suellen Sheehan, Mel, Deane Zambeti and Marie-Anne Meijers stop for coffee.
Many of the 50 Shades riders will be riding the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge for the Go Purple charity this year.
A young, sporty, enthusiastic and pretty girl got an opportunity to be coached by a tennis star three decades ago. What could be more exciting?

But then her life was shattered ... Nobody believed her, and she had no one to turn to. Many years later, the truth is revealed.

Some have said: 'isn't Bob Hewitt too old to go to jail?' but then wasn't Suellen Sheenan too young to have sex when it happened? It's been a long and hard ride for Suellen and the other women in this much-publicised trial, but justice prevailed.

I became involved when, while shopping, my telephone rang and it was one of the other 50 Shades riders. “Was I riding the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge?” she asked. “Yes,” I answered. “Would I like to ride for the charity Go Purple?” she asked again.

And then she told me about Suellen, who was going to get on a bike for the first time, start training and ride it and that we could ride with her for The Go Purple Foundation. And this charity has a story involving human trafficking and abuse. The organisation stands for hope and healing. I said for sure and that I was pretty certain there are other 50 Shades riders who would be keen.

Riding the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge has been on my bucket list for a long time, and this is the year I feel I'm ready. Suellen is going to ride it just like that, that's courage. And maybe a story that should be told. So she came for tea and an 'interview' (I've never done that before).

Suellen arrived that morning, an elegant, tall, dark-haired woman with beautiful eyes, and we sat on the patio with tea and coffee and chatted. I told her I had never done an interview before and she told me to relax, she had done many!

One of my first questions to her was: “Why the Momentum 947 Cycle Race?”

"Ok... so what I decided and this was at three o'clock in the morning, was, um ... let me ride the 94.7 ...."

Then Suellen told how at first she thought of walking to Cape Town, going from town to town to raise awareness and speak to the kids at schools, as she seems to be able to connect with them. She then spoke to a friend and they thought of cycling from Beit Bridge to Cape Agulhas. This male friend works solely to support male survivors of abuse while Suellen deals with women and young girls and has helped a few young men. She doesn't know if this will still happen but it might be on the cards for August next year.

So she decided to do the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge. "It is a good way to get us on the map. We will be amongst 20 000 people. So people will see who we are. The Go Purple Foundation will be the only organization there active with fighting human trafficking."

For the actual challenge, one of Hewitt's other victims wants to ride with Suellen. Both have gone through a very hard time during the trial. Suellen feels that being cross-examined was worse than being raped. The defence made her feel guilty.

Having seen the route, Suellen feels she can relate it to her path in life. Spots on the route are indicative of milestones of her journey. "Pressing the charges against him" would be the start, then the hills would be the first court date, then the second court date and so on … "I think that last uphill, I believe it’s shocking, but I figured that it could probably be a very good example of the trial and what we went through."

As Suellen said, many people get on their bike, and they are all shapes and sizes, and ride the “947”, it may be daunting but it is doable. The choice to press charges and follow through was daunting but they proved it was doable and that is a message that needs to go out to many other survivors of abuse.

And she hopes that within a few years she can get a whole lot of people who have gone through what she and the others went through, to do the 947 as a group. Make the 947 a healing journey, and include other cycle events around the country.

If the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge goes well, Suellen wants to do the Cape Town Cycle Tour. At this stage, she says it is still an 'experiment', but she is confident it will work very well. The press follows and supports her which is awesome for their cause.

She hopes to raise at least R100 000 through the 947 which will go towards helping victims who need places of safety and even assistance with finances should they need this. Hardly any provision is made for adults in need of help in this country and Go Purple has one place at this stage called Crossroads in Vanderbijlpark. These people need protection and help.

"There is nothing worse than that feeling of helplessness" says Suellen.

Suellen, her son and the other victims, as state witnesses, said they received severe death threats during the trial. It was never taken seriously. "Stuff like that should be taken seriously".

There are many charities involved with the Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge, all of which do excellent work. The Go Purple Foundation is the only one riding for adults, and one in five adults (male and female) has been abused. That means that of the 20 000 riders at the “947”, 4000 have been abused. "So we will certainly hit a nerve with a lot of people."

Suellen says that had she known Go Purple when she first embarked on her "thing" as she calls it, it would have been much easier than only having met the organisation two years into it.

"We think our lives come to an end, when something like this happens to us, our lives just fall apart and um ... I'm now back on the tennis court, I'm now cycling, so I'm doing things that I would never ever in a million years have done 10 years ago. I retired for 21 years off the tennis court, and now I'm back. I think it needs to be an inspiration to other people that they can also do it. You can get there".

Everybody needs a helping hand.

Suellen's first ride was at the RideFree Bike Park, Central Park Trails, Modderfontein. She said riding down the narrow paths through the bushes, she screeched the whole way down the hill! She got to the bottom of the hill and her legs felt like jelly. But she did it and loved it, she said it was a 'fun feeling'. It's about conquering, conquering obstacles, real and metaphorically.

Several of the 50 Shades of Mud are riding for Go Purple with Suellen. And they will be joined by Gerald de Kock, David Higgs and Shan Wilson. Come and ride with us, Go Purple needs your support, abused victims need our support and particularly victims of human trafficking need our support.

You can find out more about the foundation at www.gopurple.co.za.
Marie-Anne Meijers

Marie-Anne Meijers

50 Shades Contributor |

Marie-Anne Meijers is one of the original 50 Shades of ... Mud riders and is also a keen photographer.