Merchants Change a Life Warriors continue to soar
The Martin Dreyer Change a Life (CAL) Academy changes the lives of talented youths in KwaZulu Natal’s Valley of a Thousand Hills, one of South Africa’s most impoverished and socially challenged regions. Multi-sports champion, Martin Dreyer established the Academy in 2008, to identify local sporting talent and provide these individuals with the necessary support structure to flourish. The academy initially focussed on river canoeing, training members to become champions, before Martin took the decision to extend the academy’s reach to involve greater numbers of youth in the valley by introducing a running team focused on obstacle course racing, and a high-performance mountain biking team.
In 2016, BPO service provider and customer experience partner, Merchants, took the decision to sponsor the CAL running team, which has, over the years, evolved into a team of youngsters who compete in the extreme ‘Black Ops Elite’ category of the National Warrior Obstacle Race series and other local trail runs – earning them the name Merchants Warriors.
“The development of local people and communities is a significant part of what Merchants believes in and stands for as a business,” Mathew Conn, Chief Revenue Officer at Merchants. “This partnership with the CAL Academy is something that not only allows us to be part of making a difference to local communities but has also allowed the Merchants staff to be involved in the cause – which has been positive for team building internally. We are honoured to be able to support an organisation that assists those that might otherwise not have been able to reach their potential – and we commend Martin Dreyer for the inspirational work he does every day.”
Through the CAL Academy, Martin and his team not only assist the athletes in developing their sporting talents but provide the necessary support for them to continue reaching their potential. This support includes a focused training routine, the necessary clothing and shoes, equipment and monthly food parcels for the athletes and their families. What’s more, Martin explains, is that through their efforts, the athletes are learning important life skills. “To complete an obstacle race requires huge amounts of dedication, hard work, discipline, goal setting, and a never-give-up attitude. The Merchants Warriors are learning and exercising these skills on an on-going basis, which has often had amazing results,” he says.
Martin explains that the Merchants Warriors are his superman athletes – having produced consistently strong performances across varied challenges, including speedy 8km distances to rugged 30km mountain runs. Since the inception of the partnership with Merchants the Warriors have completed 18 Black Ops Elite races, consistently finishing in the top 20. In 2019, one warrior placed first in the Obstacle Wars race in Durban, and last year the Merchants Warriors took 8 of the top 10 positions in the Eduplex Obstacle Course Race in Pretoria – battling a 5km trail run and 40 obstacles alongside fierce competition.
As COVID-19 lockdown restrictions ease, Martin explains that a new generation of talent is emerging from the community – inspired by the success of their older brothers.
“We are so proud of our Warriors and continue to be inspired by their stories. Sometimes, providing an opportunity is enough of a catalyst for change in the lives of many. This is something we have learned through the work of the CAL Academy,” says Mathew Conn. Going forward, he notes that Merchants plans to work alongside the Academy to look at ways to increase the impact of the work they are doing. “Whether this is through increased opportunities or education for our warriors, or bringing further awareness to the amazing talent that is present in South Africa’s rural areas, we want to shine an even brighter light on this cause.”