"I'm absolutely overwhelmed by the messages of support and encouragement I received from such a lovely community as Knysna!" gushes Olympic cyclist, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (26) after recently representing South Africa in London with her husband and trainer, Carl Pasio (26).
Inset: Former Oakhill learner and professional athlete and trainer, Carl Pasio with his wife, Ashleigh at the Olympic Village in London where Ashleigh represented South Africa in the Women's Cycling Road Race and Time Trial (Photo: Knysna-Plett Herald).
It was in Knysna where Ashleigh first discovered her love for cycling when her competitive father-in-law, Norman Pasio, took them for an evening cycle and turned on the pace, but she managed to hold her own.
Ashleigh says her mother-in-law, Shelia Pasio, a teacher at Oakhill where Carl also completed school, has been passing on many of the messages from fans in Knysna. "I'm so thankful for the ongoing support and encouragement I have received from every one of you!
In the past year, Ashleigh has participated in 16 major qualifying cycling races in South Africa and abroad, which culminated in her coming 16th in the Olympic Road Race on July 29 and 24th in the Olympic Time Trial on August 1. She and Carl have spent the greater part of their training year in Spain to compete there.
The build-up to an event of this nature can become extremely stressful, she explains, as there was a lot of pressure to perform. This is where her faith played a crucial role. "Prayer and acknowledging that God is in control of my destiny helped me to handle the stress and pressure."
She feels the Olympic Women's Road Race was a great display of women's cycling "at its best!"
"A hard, aggressive race despite the dismal weather conditions, but the support out on the London roads was absolutely amazing! It was wonderful seeing so many South African flags along the route and hearing people shout your name as you ride past, is very special. I was blessed to have many family members in London to support me; it was actually quite overwhelming at times. I have never experienced such huge crowds supporting a women's race before. The roads were packed from start to finish - a first for women's cycling."
The Pasios loved the great camaraderie amongst all the members of Team South Africa in London.
"At first the vibe was somewhat tense, but after the opening ceremony that all changed. The opening ceremony acted as a great icebreaker and opportunity to interact and meet one another officially."
Ashleigh admits that her London 2012 experience was "filled with a whirlwind of emotions, from crying one moment to laughing the next. Although there have been many ups and downs over the past two weeks, I've done my best to soak up the vibe of the Games. What a wonderful experience it has been, I have met some amazing people and at the end of it all, I'm left overwhelmed by a feeling of excitement and thankfulness. I feel inspired!"
As a young girl, Ashleigh remembers having dreamt of one day representing her country at the Olympic Games. "Today that dream has been realised and my Olympic experience seems somewhat surreal. The London Olympic Games has been everything I dreamt it to be and more!"
Living inside the Olympic Village was a very special experience, she says.
"The Village is a little world of its own, equipped with everything one could possibly imagine, from gyms to hairdressers, dentists to any kind of food you can possibly imagine."
She felt the most impressive of all was the food hall. "It is enormous and caters for just about all tastes and ethnic groups, with a selection of food from China, India, Africa, the Americas, Europe and, of course, Great Britain to name a few. Although the huge selection of food made meal choices rather difficult, once you have finally decided what to eat, you never know who you might end up sitting next to. During my stay in the Village I had the opportunity of dining with the likes of Lleyton Hewitt and Sir Chris Hoy to name a few."
She describes walking around the village amongst a select field of the world's best athletes as yet another almost surreal experience. "You never quite know which famous sports star you might walk past next, but I must admit, in real life it is rather hard to recognise them. I've also met and chatted to Chad le Clos. He is a very confident and down-to-earth athlete. It came as no surprise to me when he won his medals; his confidence, commitment and belief in his athletic abilities are very inspiring."
Ashleigh explains that, after her own race, her "feeling of disappointment" was quickly replaced by a feeling of anticipation for what the future holds.
"I'm confident I have the strength and the talent to medal at the Olympic Games and my Olympic dream is still very much alive. I now have one Olympic Road Race and Time Trial experience in the bank and I look forward to Rio 2016!"
A big lesson learnt from her London 2012 experience is that an Olympic medal requires a long-term plan. She now realises the full extent of the fact that it takes four years of hard work, commitment and national support to successfully pursue this dream.
"Planning for Rio 2016 has already begun and I won't give up until I have fulfilled my dream of an Olympic podium," she says with new confidence.
And with her husband, a talented athlete himself, challenging and supporting her all the way it seems a sure thing this sporting couple is looking at a very bright future of doing South Africa and their families proud!
(The Pasios will be returning to South Africa on September 25 after Ashleigh's World Championship race on September 22 in the Netherlands. They plan to spend time relaxing and unwinding in Knysna.)
By Anoeschka Von Meck