Memorial ride brings best of Blend in tribute
It was a moving moment when 85 cyclists lined up at the start line last Sunday morning to pay tribute to their friend and cycling legend, Steven Blend, in the inaugural Steven Blend Memorial Ride.
One of Blend’s three sons, Justin, said he was so proud of his father, who passed away in April 2022. “A year after his death, so many people still wanted to come out and ride in his memory,” Justin says. “It was heartwarming to see how people still feel so sad by my father not being with us, and how much they miss him.”
The riders, mainly Capri Wheeler members, rode a 60km route from Bedfordview to Benoni and back before having breakfast, and presented R100 000 to two organisations Capri Wheelers always supports, namely the Community Security Organisation (CSO) and DL Link.
Selwyn Sanders, a close friend of Blend and the chairperson of the Capri Wheelers Cycling Club, came up with the idea for the memorial ride. “Capri does a ride almost every year to raise money for DL Link and CSO,” Sanders says. “We used to call it the Celebration of Life Ride but this year, I said, ‘We’ve got to change the name’.”
Naming it in honour of Blend seemed obvious to him. “It was heart breaking when Steven passed away. Since he was taken from us, there hasn’t been a club ride when his name isn’t mentioned. We have a club ride every Sunday.”
Sanders says the memorial ride will take place annually. “Steven just cannot be forgotten. He lived for life, and rode every ride as if it was his last. He was a member of Capri Wheelers for 38 years, and most people in the cycling community knew him. A lot of people gave money because they knew it was in the memory of Steven Blend.
“The main reason for the ride was to remember Steven and raise money in his name, so it wasn’t a competitive ride and the route wasn’t challenging. Afterwards, we had a stunning breakfast. It was an amazing day.”
They raised R100 000 in his name for both DL Link and CSO. “We raised it via raffle. What was amazing was that last week, the DL Link had a fundraiser in which they had a matcher who tripled all donations they received. So, our money for DL Link became R300 000. Our main sponsor, Peaceforce, contributed to the ride. We had Peaceforce follow to keep the riders safe. We had four groups of riders, each with a follow vehicle.”
Justin, who rides about four times a week, says, “I vividly remember cycling with my father when I was a young kid, riding up the hills in Killarney, and him encouraging me to push until I reached the top of the climb and explaining to me how important it is never to give up.
“As a teenager, I used to cycle at provincial level. My father helped tremendously by taking me to all the races in outlying areas, encouraging me, and always making sure I had everything I needed.”
Sanders and Blend spent hours riding together. “Cycling is tough at times, and you suffer through it together,” Sanders says. “You really bond when you cycle with someone and spend three or four hours in a morning with them. We did so many races together, including a four-day race called the Panorama Tour, which is probably the hardest race one can do. We took part in many club rides from Joburg to Durban together. We did a ride from Joburg to Swaziland [now Eswatini], as well as cycling trips in France and Italy. Steven partook in every single race you can think of in the calendar.”
Blend was born on 23 September 1956, and grew up in Emmarentia, Johannesburg. Business ran deeply in his veins, and he collaborated with many in the South African business community.
He mentored his three sons, Justin, Darren, and Greg, in their business careers. For more than 20 years, he was a judge for the Jewish Achiever Awards. He convinced Absa to sponsor the awards. Last year, the Art, Sport, Science, and Culture Award was named in honour of Blend.
Blend’s passion was cycling. Having rode in an Israel cycle tour to raise money for children who had been through trauma, he decided to start something similar in South Africa, and founded the 361 Hatzolah Cycle Tour in 2015. There have since been nine tours.