Pressmore Musundi: Taking on the world of mountain biking with no toes

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The Zimbabwean rider has overcome incredible odds, including a foot deformity, to establish himself as one of the top riders in South Africa’s mountain biking scene. Musundi spoke to Olympics.com about his journey on a humble bike.

No toes? No problem, says Zimbabwean mountain biker Pressmore Musundi, who has become an inspirational figure north and south of the Limpopo River.

A combination of resilience and a good dollop of goodwill has seen Musundi go from ‘sleeping in the bushes’ to conquering some of the toughest mountain bike races despite a congenital foot deformity.

The then 14-year-old Musundi made the perilous trek from his homeland in Zimbabwe, crossing into South Africa in search of a better life after the death of his father. Musundi arrived in South Africa as a school dropout with no discernible skills, seeking a job among the millions of unemployed adults.

“I stayed in the bushes for a few weeks until I met someone who was looking for someone to work in his garden,” Musundi recalled of dire times.

“I used to go to the robots (traffic lights) during the day, where people were looking for jobs, and I would ask people for money for food. Some would give me money, some would buy me bread, and then I would go under the bridge and sleep.”

Pressmore Musundi: Getting off the street and onto a bike

But luck would smile upon the young Musundi. His eventual employers picked him among other men who loiter around traffic lights waiting for piecemeal jobs. A family looking for a gardener gave Musundi a lifeline.

When he told the family about his struggles, they offered him accommodation in one of their backrooms. To set up his date with destiny, they also bought Musundi his first bicycle.

With the new wheels, Musundi would cycle to the nearby township of Mamelodi, where he said he was ‘playing around too much’ with his friends. The 20km trip resulted in a chance encounter with the Pretoria South Lions Club, who were handing out reflective bibs to cyclists travelling between the township and the suburbs.

Musundi started training with the Lions Club, which ultimately kickstarted his career in the saddle, competing in both road and mountain bike racing. His passion ultimately led him to work as a mechanic at a bike shop while he developed a taste for single track instead of the road.

In 2019, Musundi completed the Cape Epic, one of the most gruelling multi-stage races in the world, consisting of eight days in the saddle covering 624 kilometres of mountain trails and gravel roads.

“The first stage wasn’t my day, and I was struggling like cramping and losing power but from the second to the last stage, I was enjoying it a lot,” Musundi said.

“The part that I like the most is what they call Groenberg. I enjoyed it a lot. I was cruising because I knew the checkpoint was far, so I was cruising to the top, where I waited for my partner while taking videos and taking photos of people passing. It was great for me!”

Pressmore Musundi: Taking on the world

If the multi-stage race was not demanding, to begin with, Musundi had to overcome the pain and discomfort in his feet. Musundi only has two toes visible on both feet.

“I used to wear big socks that I would fold at the front not to get hurt. People see me enjoying it on the bike, but in the feet, I am suffering,” said Musundi.

Musundi has never seen his deformity as a disability or as an excuse. He competes against able-bodied athletes on a weekly basis and often finds his way to the podium.

In recent years, he joined the professional outfit Team PYGA Euro Steel, founded by London 2012 Olympian Philip Buys in 2013. Musundi works as a second mechanic and competes under the team’s banner.

Musundi’s own Paralympic ambitions suffered a setback when the Zimbabwean federation did not offer a race in his category at the 2023 national championships.

The 29-year-old Musundi still delivered incredible results in Harare, where he won the men’s elite Mountain Bike Cross-Country event.

“My mom is still on that side (Zimbabwe). She was very surprised last year when I called her when I went to Harare,” Musundi said.

“Our hometown is about 400 km from Harare. I sent her money to get a bus to come to Harare and see me racing. She was very surprised when I won that race. She was crying.”

Highlighting his potential, Musundi finished in a creditable 18th place behind the winner and his coach, Buys, at the African Olympic cross-country championships in Johannesburg.

Pressmore Musundi: Dreaming of the Paralympics

Musundi is hellbent on becoming a Paralympian, whether he realises the dream in Paris 2024 or LA 2028. And while he works towards this goal, he also ploughs back into the sport as a mentor to young riders at the Mamelodi Cycling Academy.

“I enjoy it a lot, working with the kids. It opens opportunities for them and develops them to get into the big clubs. That is my focus now,” he said.

“We recruit the kids in Mamelodi. The Pretoria South Lions Club bought us a big container to keep all the bikes and the parts we get as donations from people.”

Musundi used to travel to other townships around Pretoria training and inspiring young kids to take up cycling. The focus has shifted to Mamelodi, where the academy now boasts 39 members raging between the ages of seven and 18.

The Zimbabwean cycling ace said there was a possibility of competing at the 2024 Cape Epic with one of the academy riders, which would provide tangible inspiration to the youngsters. A shot at seeing one of their own taking on some of the best riders in the world.

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