Brenda Clapp rides her tandem mountainbike with Heather Bates on board during a training ride on Sunday. Photo: Simon Bloomberg.

Nelson cyclist leading the blind


One of Nelson’s most versatile cyclists, Brenda Clapp, thought she had done it all when it came to bike racing, but this Saturday she faces a new challenge when she lines up in the all-women Spring Challenge adventure race near Hokitika.

Brenda has competed in a variety of road and mountainbike races on an intriguing selection of bikes, including single-speeds and tandems. Although she will be getting back on her tandem mountainbike for Saturday’s team’s multisport race the big difference will be that the person on the back will be blind.

But Brenda isn’t expecting that to slow them down. Brenda’s blind team-mate, Wellington’s Neelu Memon, is a super-fit athlete having been the first legally-blind person to complete the Coast to Coast in 2012 and last month climbing Africa’s highest peak, the 5895 metre Mt Kilimanjaro. “She has raced on a tandem on the track at the Paralympics and she’s done the Coast to Coast, so she’ll be really fit,” Brenda says. “It will just be a matter of communicating with her all the time we are riding and letting her know what’s coming up.”

Neelu lost her sight after contracting a rare autoimmune illness and lapsing into a coma for four months when she was 16. She used sport to challenge herself during a lengthy rehabilitation and now the 30 year-old races competitively in road and track cycling and multisport events.

Brenda will be the latest in a line of Nelson athletes and adventurers to team-up with Neelu. Spring Challenge co-organiser and world championship-winning adventure racer, Nathan Fa’avae, paddled a kayak across the Cook Straight with Neelu in 2012, while Peter Coeland and Sue Baillie climbed Kilimanjaro with her last month.

It was Neelu’s association with Nathan that led to her contacting Brenda about piloting a tandem bike in the Spring Challenge. “Neelu rang Nathan and said she needed a new challenge and he suggested that she could do the Spring Challenge,” Brenda says. “She needed a pilot for the tandem so Nathan contacted me.”

The Spring Challenge has attracted 1068 athletes who will race in 356 teams, maintaining its record as the country’s biggest adventure race.

The race starts on Saturday morning with a 10 to 15 kilometre rafting stage, followed by mountainbiking and trekking.