Cycling for Change

We catch up with cyclist, sports medicine physician and high-performance sports strategist Dr Phatokuhle Zondi on how she lives life well.


  1. What do wellness and balance mean to you?

For me, Wellness means having a healthy body, mind, and heart. In terms of balance, I don’t strive for perfect equilibrium. Rather, I aim for integration of the things I have to do with the things I want to do. Time management and prioritising are important, but so are remaining spontaneous and agile for those often-occurring plot twists.


  1. What are some of the healthy pantry staples that fuel your active life?

I eat a balanced diet that contains complex carbohydrates, lean protein, a moderate amount of healthy fats, and plenty of fluids. My go-to carbs include pasta, sweet potato and wraps, while chicken, eggs, kidney beans and a good steak are my go-to proteins. I’m also a regular snacker!


  1. When you’re not working or cycling, what are some of your favourite things to do?

I really enjoy hiking and trail walking with my husband and kids. If I’m relaxing at home, you’re bound to find me lost in a good book.


  1. Is there a motto you live by?

Incepto ne desistam,” which means, “may I not shrink from my purpose”.


  1. What does your training regime entail?

It depends on my races. I work with a coach who tailors my regime and accommodates work and family to get the best out of me as an athlete. To prepare for the Cape Epic, I trained 12 – 15 hours a week. This included five cycling sessions and two strength training sessions. Now that the Epic is over, I train for about eight to ten hours a week. Although I loved the intense focus of race preparation, it’s been fun to be able to mix it up a bit.


  1. What are some of your favourite ways to recover after a race or an intensive training session?

A good meal, a recovery massage and enough sleep – especially during a stage race, when you have to ride the next day.


  1. What inspired your interest in cycling?

I’ve always been active and loved a challenge. I became particularly curious when someone mentioned that the number of females -  specifically black females - entering cycling events was dismally low. I took it on with a renewed interest, understanding the participation barriers so that I could start exploring how to help resolve it.


  1. What is your favourite route to cycle, and why?

A firm favourite is Karkloof in KZN for its beautiful and testing terrain. I also love riding in the Western Cape – there are so many options for every level of rider, with the most spectacular scenery.


  1. What has been your greatest achievement?

On the bike, the Cape Epic! Conquering “the toughest race on earth” in one of the hardest editions to date was really special. We were able to use the journey and the #SheUntamed campaign to confront bias, raise awareness, and grow the community of women cyclers. The 2021 Munga was a tough 1152 km race, too. It required both physical and mental fortitude.


  1. What bias have you had to face as a black woman in cycling?

It’s still uncommon to see black women at mountain bike events, and there are always the surprised glances as you line up at the start. There’s the unsolicited ‘coaching’ that happens when you’re a newbie to a particular group, but that generally subsides once they realise your level of skill and fitness as you leave them eating your dust descending technical terrain. Another challenge is the cost - equipment, race entries, kit – these are all incredibly expensive, and we need to work on making this sport more accessible.


  1. If you had the chance, what would be the one thing you’d want to tell other young, black women?

Be bold, take ownership of your journey, and cherish the community that will celebrate small victories with you. Cycling has enabled me to reach unimaginable heights – both literally and metaphorically. I’ve met many incredible people and explored beautiful landscapes.

We should all find something that takes us out of our comfort zone and leads us to new experiences. This is how we grow, how we stay inspired, and how we realise our full potential.


Want more wisdom and inspiration from Dr Zondi? Follow her @phatho_z on Twitter

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