Twenty-four-year-old professional cyclist Cherise Stander had early beginnings in the sport, cycling with her family, including her uncle, nephews and grandmother, every week. Her love of cycling grew and she raced her first Argus at the tender age of nine.
“My nephews beat me comprehensively in the race and that is when I decided to take it seriously, exercising more and entering more races. I was 12 when I went to the SA Champs for the first time and won it, but a few lean years followed with me only winning it again after I turned 17,” she says.
Stander raced at the Junior World Championships in Belgium and on her return got offered a contract at the Konica Minolta racing team. The rest is history with stints spent at several teams including MTN Energade (during which time she qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics) and Lotto Belisol before joining Team RECM, where she is currently.
But Stander has had her fair share of challenges, both professionally and personally.
First, she missed out on the London Olympics in 2012 due to a technical ruling on selection policy from Cycling SA and then, more significantly, her husband of seven months (Burry Stander) was killed in an accident while training in January last year.
“Everything happened so quickly last year. It was difficult to get any sort of focus and I tried to throw myself into competing at more events as a way to take my attention away from things. With the help of my family and friends, I have gotten through this difficult time and am now focused on my cycling career.”
The hard work is paying off, with Stander winning the Argus earlier this year, an achievement she considers to be one of her career highlights, and representing South Africa in the road team for the Commonwealth Games at the end of July.
But there is also life outside of cycling with her currently involved at the Specialized cycling offices in Stellenbosch.
“It certainly has been fun managing an office job with being a professional cyclist but the company is very understanding and gives me the opportunities I need.”
Specialized might just have to be patient a bit longer as Stander is on track to meet her goal of going to the Rio Olympics in two years’ time. — Iwan Pienaar