Editor’s note: A case for not teaching our children what to think, but rather how to think. Thank you Cathy . . . you (and your parents) are directly responsible for this story by your remarkable daughter, Fleur.
When my mom moved to Swellendam, her parents – my grandparents – were very upset that she had left city life behind, and her job at the veterinary clinic in Cape Town. But my mom was adamant; this place had just stolen her heart and this was where she wanted to live. And so she set up her roots here – and I grew up to her as a single parent. Everything that I am today was taught by her; she always let me be free to be the person I was developing into. She gave me freedom, physically, mentally, and I will forever be grateful for that. At birthday parties she was always the mother that other parents would say to: “Cathy your child is up in the tree”, and she would look around at me and say “it’s fine”. She left me to be who I am, fully, and every weekend we spent time in the mountain, exploring everything, and if I were to believe in fairies she would totally agree with me, in fact she would try to help me find the fairies.
One of my clearest memories is of my grandfather taking me around the block on his bicycle every Sunday in Berg Street, where they lived. I think that’s probably where my biking came from. Then we’d stop outside the museum and have a peanut butter sandwich, and then we’d carry back on home, and to me this was the biggest adventure ever. My grandfather passed away when I was in standard 6 (grade 8) and my grandma then came to live with us. She was my absolute hero; everything my mom and I did was wonderful in her eyes, she also had the best sense of humour – for example, she couldn’t stand it if my mom and I were giggling away in a different room, she’s always want to know what we were laughing about. She had an incredible love of life, to her everything she saw passing past the window was beautiful. She was also incredibly supportive when I came home and told her that I was going to do stunts; the backing I received from her and my mom was amazing. For many many years myself, my mom and my gran were the three musketeers.
When my grandma was 84 her heart gave in. Her aorta valve was damaged, but most surgeons refused to do surgery on an 84-year old woman; fortunately, though, the famous heart surgeon Susan Prinsloo agreed to do my grandma’s surgery. My gran was so excited to get this opportunity because she really wanted to live – and she did, she lived until the age of 99 and a half years old. Until the day she died she continued to love life, no problem was too big for her. She’d grown up in the Netherlands and had come to South Africa with nothing, her life had been really tough and she’s rebuilt her life here. But finally her life was so full, she had so much.
Another big inspiration in my life was Oom Piet Diederichs. I was nine years old when my mom and I moved to the Hermitage from Olyfkrans; Oom Piet was my athletics coach. In my eyes, everything he said was perfect, and my mom basically had to bite her tongue to keep her opinion to herself, because some days I’d be so stiff that I couldn’t even walk. But finally Oom Piet was right, and he showed me what toughness is about; when we would run up mountains and I would start crying he’d say to me that I was so lucky to be able to run at all, that there were little kids in hospital who didn’t have this privilege. That really motivated me, and eventually I started doing tug-of-war as a sport under him. At first he’d said it wasn’t a sport for girls, but I said that I would beat all these little boys at tug of war, and I did. Having proven myself to him, Oom Piet applied for special permission so that I was allowed to compete with the boys. He was like my father figure, really, I think and I hope that I felt like a child to him as well; he still tells everybody that I’m his daughter. Oom Piet is 70 now, and in all honesty I still can’t beat him in a race up the mountain.
When I was 17 years old I started working as a river guide, because I really liked paddling. The minute I turned 18, during my matric year, I started working on the rivers. First I worked on the Breede River, then the Orange River, which is where I met Frans Spilhause’s brother, Gunther Spilhause, who hosted adventure racing all over the country. I started helping him with that and in the process we became really good friends, after a while he told me that I should contact his brother (Frans) who had just come back from the UK and owned his own stunt company. At the time I was about 20 years old, and I thought “wow, this is just it”. I’d gone studying for two years before that, but when I heard about stunt work I went home and told my mom all about it at once. She encouraged me to immediately phone them, and so I did, going to Cape Town soon thereafter to visit them there. After that, however, I didn’t hear from them for two whole months – it was just before my 21st birthday, as I was headed out to San Sebastian Bay (my favourite place in the world, where we had been going since I was a baby), that I received a call from them. They wanted me to do a double job in Cape Town, and I was over the moon; I promptly cancelled my 21ste birthday holiday and went to Cape Town alone.
The stunt bug bit me immediately, and it hasn’t yet let me go; I underwent training then and my stunting career took off from there. We work all over the world, but whenever I get the chance, if I’m close to Swellendam, I get in the car and drive home, even if it’s only for a single day. My stunt colleagues often ask me why I’m always rushing off this way, but it’s because everything that I love in life is in Swellendam: The mountain, the people, everything. I’m so grounded here; and it will be like that for the rest of my life. Fortunately for me my mom feels exactly the same and has always gravitated towards Swellendam; she also forms part of many community projects. For instance we started Swellendam TV together to uplift the community, trying to help young people and prevent teenage pregnancies, drug abuse, etcetera. We also worked against rhino poaching and got involved in our community in many ways like that; we’ve been doing a form of social media before that was really a thing. My mom is amazing, I don’t think you could find a better person to promote the town. That’s where the Swellendam Experience came from: it’s the people, it’s built on people and the place itself. And so: my whole life is based on this, it’s in everything I do. As for my mom, her true true passion is helping the community, to her it isn’t a job but a vocation.
I’d like to add a sweet tale about my gran:
About seven years ago I was in Thailand doing some training, and the place where I was training asked me to do a fight – it was a friendly fight yet still quite intense, and it was aired live on the internet at a very awkward time for South Africa (I think 10 p.m.), but my gran was absolutely glued to the screen watching me participate in this fight.
She was so excited, and I remember my mom even being embarrassed about my gran telling her hairdresser about her granddaughter doing this big fight in Thailand. She was always incredibly supportive and proud of whatever I was doing.