Thursday, July 9, 2020

Ross branches off hurdles to ride to glory

Ross Branch is living proof that you can never put a good man down.

Branch took The Sunday Standard Lifestyle through his Rollercoaster journey from the time he was a little boy to the time he stood in the starting line of the Dakar Rally, a race he always dreamt of taking part in.

From losing his mother to cancer, to crashing his bike 88 kilometres into the race at Stage 3 of the Dakar race, to his bike’s chain breaking just about 400m to the finish line of the world’s toughest race.

Branch faced insurmountable challenges that could literally break him down to become Botswana’s racing sensation and stamp his name in the hall of fame of history’s pages emerging a winner for stage 2 of the race.

“I started racing at the age of 3 and have been racing ever since. I have raced in Europe and America. My dreams as a child were very clear. I wanted to race motorbikes for a living and make a life out of my sport. After racing I wanted to become a pilot. So in 2015 I finished my commercial pilots license and now I fly part time for Mack Air in the Okavango Delta,” Branch told Sunday Standard.

Branch was born to Kevin and Glenda Branch at Jwaneng. “The lowest point in my life was losing my mom to cancer in 2013. I was really close to her and she inspired me,” Branch said with frankness that could uncover emotional scars of one of his lowest moments in life.

The Kalahari Ferrari ‘s excellent sportsmanship has garnered him some of the best titles in motorbike racing that became a springboard into Dakar 2020 Rally. “I have had a really good racing career and won numerous awards such as being 8 times TDR desert race winner, 6 times all African champion, Multiple SA national champion and Multiple Botswana champion,” said Branch.

For Branch, the preparation for the Dakar Rally was nail biting. “I have been focusing on the rally racing for the past 2 years. So I’ve been working really hard on the roadbook and navigation for the past 2 years,” said Branch. “It was the best feeling lining up with the best rally riders in the world. And know that I had a once in a lifetime opportunity,” added the Kalahari Ferrari.

After emerging a winner at stage 2, he moved into the next round of the race enthused. Indeed life is so exquisite a spell that everything conspires to break it as Emily Dickson once said, as Branch crashed at km 88 in the 3rd stage.

“When I crashed it was the worst feeling in the world. To think my rally was over was scary and I didn’t want to give up. So I knew it was going to be a really long and hard rally for me riding with an injury,” Branch said.

A couple of days later, once again a ton of bricks were thrown in his direction when his chain broke at about 400m from the finish line.

“I broke the chain a few days after my crash and I could see the finish line. I felt so useless and I couldn’t get to the finish line,” he said.

When faith and hope threatened to leave Branch, he sunk his gourde deed into the bottom of his soul to scrap, as it were, the dregs that he may drown the despondency that was setting in his mind. He began to push his bike with the finish line daunting his attempts until a good Samaritan stopped to give him a hand.

“Luckily another rider stopped to help me and we pushed the bike across the finish. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done but the feeling of crossing that line was incredible,” he said with exhilaration.

Skill and effort blended into an explosion of exhilaration as Ross Branch, nicknamed the Kalahari Ferrari, handled the slippery bends, at times meandering the terrain of death through the daring dunes of sand and the rugged steeps of the hills of Saudi Arabia.

It was make or break for Branch, the terrain had his back against the wall, but Branch was as cunning as the devil if not as slippery as water through the clutches of the sand. The Jwaneng born sensation was having the time of his life at the just ended Dakar 2020 rally finishing at position 21 in overall.

Glenda Branch, Ross Branch’s mother, may have succumbed to cancer. But the hours she spent at the track with her Ross her son stitched and knitted in him a coat of many colours whose fabric does not wear out, with an unfading colour.

“My mom spent most of her days at the track with me helping me and teaching me. She wanted me to succeed in racing and said I must follow my dreams and never give up so her words will always be with me, knowing that she would be proud of me reaching the finish line after all I had been through. This is what kept me going for sure,” said Branch.

The challenges he met both in his life and Dakar may have thrust him into a grave of despair. But his mind is anchored in positive attitude and that’s what keeps him winning.

“My words are never give up. Even when it seems like nothing is working and you are not getting anywhere. Things will work out and keep following your dreams,” he said. Such an attitude got him a prestigious award from Motul at the race, which was for not giving up despite having faced a behemoth of challenges during the race. The 33-year-old racing sensation is working with children in Khawa and teaching them about road safety and teaching them how to race motorbikes. He says hopefully one of them can follow in his footsteps.

Although Branch was competing at Dakar Rally for the first time, it was not a shot in the dark as he finished 21 in overall at 44h 25’56”, that’s 4 hours, 23 minutes and 20 seconds behind Ricky Brabec of USA who was crowned the overall winner in the motorbike section clocking the time of 40h02’36”.

Perhaps having one’s back against the wall is not in itself the end of the person but when one gives in under the siege of negativity.

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.