Simone Sharpe’s Journey to (Nearly) the 2024 Absa Cape Epic


Simone Sharpe is a [mis]adventurer, a party-animal turned triathlete, and a survivor. In her 34 short years she has overcome childhood cancer, undergone a handful of major surgeries and committed to extreme lifestyle changes. The 2024 Absa Cape Epic was set to be her biggest sporting challenge yet, but life had other plans… 

My Absa Cape Epic journey started in October last year, back when I was spending all of my free time on the trails - running. I had always wanted to be a mountain biker but had rather settled on running because the whole MTB thing didn’t go all that well at first… because I wiped out, badly.

What can I say, I like going downhill and I like doing it fast. Mountain biking didn’t like me back and for the sake of my failing shoulders (I have Avascular Necrosis in my shoulders and have a left partial shoulder replacement and the right shoulder is affected too) - I resigned myself to road and gravel riding.

Fast forward to October 2023 when my dear friend Hannele Steyn let me know that she had suggested me as a rider to the Absa team, to be part of their #SheUntamed initiative. That very day I got back on my mountain bike and rode every day for the next eight days. I was committed to facing the fear that had come after my falls.

I wanted it - the opportunity to ride the Absa Cape Epic. I wanted it badly. I visualized it, so much so that I felt I had manifested the call that I received from Sarah Hill a couple of weeks later. Sarah let me know that Hannele had put me forward and that they were keen to have me on board - but, was I keen?

“Hell yes!” - I think I blurted that out before she had finished the sentence. Her next question was a tough one, “Alright, but the next question is just as important: Simone, be honest, do you think you are capable of finishing, knowing that the 2024 route is going to be the toughest in the history of the Cape Epic?”

“Sarah, I don’t give up. I never give up,” I told her. “I will give it everything I’ve got and I know I can do it. I’m going to need help with my skills but I’m willing to go all in. I want to go all in. I won’t let you down.”

“Well, ok then… You can freak out now, you’re in! But just hold off freaking out publicly until you’ve received the official invite from Absa,” Sarah advised.

A happy dance ensued. My dogs joined. They didn’t know what was going on but Mamma was delighted.

I’ve been on a high since and I kept my promise - I went all in. I had skills lessons, I got better, I got more confident and I completed some seriously tough, technical, big deal rides.

Until my high was interrupted on Valentines Day.

I had rested my legs for three days, after completing the Tankwa Trek, and was ready to get back on my bike. So, having arranged to stay, with my boyfriend, at a friend’s house in Stellenbosch that night we went for an afternoon ride. We rode up through Coetzenburg and had a great time on the XCO trails, then cycled across to G-Spot.

Now, as he likes to tell people, that’s where I lost control: on G-Spot, on Valentines Day.

He’s not lying though, I did lose control, in a moment of lost concentration - my head took a big hit, my cheek greeted the ground, my whole right side went bang. I heard a snap and for a few panicked seconds thought it was my neck. With huge relief, I realised it wasn’t and was saddened by the thought that my sunglasses must have broken.

My boyfriend had hurriedly gotten to me and was asking if I was ok and if anything was broken. “Everything just hurts, but I don’t think anything is broken,” I replied. I got up, slowly. Everything hurt more.

I tried to get back on my bike, but my arm was proving to be near useless, and incredibly sore. He suggested we walk, which I agreed to for a little while, before I tried to get back on again. No luck, there was no way I could ride down those trails.

We walked all the way to the level gravel road, where I managed to get back on and ride to our friend’s house. It was a most unpleasant ride back, but I was still trying to fool myself into thinking it wasn’t that bad.

He insisted we go to the hospital, where an X-ray revealed I had broken my clavicle, in [apparently] an unusual way - right at the end. I would have preferred for the snap I heard to have been my sunglasses!

The ER doctor suggested their Orthopaedic Surgeon take over, which I declined because of one of the few benefits that comes from overcoming two life-threatening diseases as a child (cancer at 15 and Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura at 18) is that I have a close relationship with some of the best oncologists and haematologists in the country - and relevant to this injury, I have one of the finest Orthopaedic Surgeons, in my corner.

I immediately emailed Prof Basil Vrettos, who did my shoulder replacement in 2013, letting him know what had happened and that I need to be able to ride the Absa Cape Epic in four weeks. Included in the email was a picture of my X-ray with the question: “What now?”

The reply came back that he was currently in the United States, at a conference. Not good!

He also said that I could not ride with the injury. Well, I certainly didn’t like that answer! It was just as well that he was in the States because I needed a new answer.

A friend then suggested Dr Rob Dachs and I managed to get squeezed in to see him on an emergency appointment. He looked at the X-rays, examined me and seemed to fully grasp that my only concern was the ability to still be on the start line on the 17th of March. Whatever he suggested, needed to be based on that.

“It’s not impossible,” he said, “it will be even more difficult, and painful - but it’s not impossible.”

I liked the sound of that, so I agreed to whatever he suggested - which was surgery the next day. On the 16th of February, I had a metal plate put into my right clavicle. And two days later I got back on my bike, on the indoor trainer. I changed Dachs words from “not impossible”, to “it is possible” in my mind and proceeded to hold onto my dream.

My Coaching Team, made up of Erica Green and Sarah Hill, very kindly allowed me that week of delusion. We stayed in touch via WhatsApp and I assured them I could do it. Erica phoned me and spoke to me lovingly, telling me she felt it was a bad idea. She told me of her experience with collarbone breaks, and of her husband Spook’s experiences too. It’s certainly not an uncommon injury for cyclists and it’s equally common knowledge that the recovery time is six weeks minimum, not four.

“But it’s possible!”, I said, not ready to let go.

A few days later, Sarah called. Over the last few months, I have been so fortunate to get to know these women and form close relationships with them. I know they care for me, as I do for them. I know they recognise the fighter in me. I know they want me to finish the Absa Cape Epic just as much as I want it for myself, and I also know that they have far more experience than I do, in mountain biking and with injuries.

Sarah, with tenderness, reminded me of the 2024 route. She said that it was just too soon after surgery to attempt to ride what the Absa Cape Epic is going to throw at us this year.

We were on a Zoom call – we have been having hour-long weekly calls to help me prepare mentally, talking about my journey to the race. It’s a privilege to have this time with her and in that specific session, she let me know that they simply could not let me ride the 2024 Cape Epic four weeks after breaking my collarbone.

She then suggested we turn our cameras and mics off for 5 minutes, and that I use that time to let it out.

So that’s what I did, I let it out and cried - for the first time since the break. I couldn’t hide from it anymore and I couldn’t hold onto “it’s not impossible” anymore.

I had my little cry and then put the camera and mic back on and thanked Sarah for giving me that, for still including me as part of the team and for supporting me the way that she has. She let me know that they all still wanted me there, at the race, and would love for me to do what I normally do at races - tell stories.

This means that my Absa Cape Epic dream has not died, it has just changed slightly and the beautiful thing about it is that it’s changed in a way that allows me to still do something that I am deeply passionate about. I will now have the opportunity to be at the Absa Cape Epic, cheering for and supporting my #SheUntamed sisters.

I would be lying if I said that the 5 minute Zoom cry I had were the only tears shed since. But I have since been able to move past it and allow myself to fully embrace this new dream: to do my sisters justice as they tackle the race that measures all.

About Simone Sharpe

Simone is a survivor and adventurer, a writer and explorer. Follow her documentation of the #SheUntamed adventure on Instagram @simone_sharpe.