Keeping up with Reuben

Reuben van Niekerk has been a lower limb prosthetic user since 2008. Well known as a mountain biking enthusiast, he relies on a range of prosthetic products to keep up with a busy professional life and strenuous training schedule.

As a five-time Absa Cape Epic finisher, he is a passionate advocate for the value of a healthy lifestyle for people living with amputation.  He follows a regime of Pilates and other core strength exercises, when he is not out biking.

We caught up with Reuben to find out more.

  • How important is it for your prosthetic solution to ‘keep up’ with the demands of your lifestyle and what are the considerations?

“It is very important. The high activity rate means more wear and tear on the various prosthetic solutions that I use.  There is a fairly regular need for consumables like valves, sleeves and liners.

My stump is fairly constant in size and shape so, at this stage, we are only replacing sockets due to wear and tear, rather than uncomfortable fitting. However, I do believe that my stump is stable due to my active lifestyle and I think that amputees need to realize that keeping your body-weight as low and stable as possible has huge benefits for how active you can be.

A high level of fitness translates into easier mobility in everyday life”.

  • You finished your fifth Absa Cape Epic this year, are you aiming for a sixth?

“Yeah this year was my fifth finish and the best result so far. The thing with the Cape Epic is that the route is different every year so the challenge is always new.

It remains the pinnacle of mountain bike stage racing so it is a great way to keep testing myself, and improving my result at this event while I can. In April I said that we were done with the Epic but, if the opportunity comes along, I will most probably be back on the start line in 2019.

The training involved, as well as the significant media coverage that the Epic generates, tends to open doors throughout the year so it is a valuable event to do from that perspective. More recently, I completed the Race to the Sun Gravel Bike Race, a 167 km race which I finished in 184th position, the top 25 per cent of the field.  I am really chuffed with that result”.

  • What is your message to others facing life after limb loss?

“Amputees need to realise that an active, healthy lifestyle is so much more important for them than for an able bodied person.

I am often contacted by new amputees who are overly focused on getting the latest prosthetic hardware and socket. Although these are important, I tell them is that it is a journey that takes a lot of hard work. It is important to train your body in a way that the amputation doesn’t impact you later in life. Core strength and flexibility are very important, so too is keeping your weight under control.

Simply put, the fitter you are the easier things are going to be.  Apart from cycling I spend time doing Pilates or core training. This has aided me dramatically, both on the bike and off”.

  • Should any of our readers be interested in taking up mountain biking, what is your advice?

“I encourage amputees to look at non-impact sports like cycling, swimming and rowing as a way of getting fit. These activities place less load on the stump than, for example, running or walking and are enjoyable ways of building general fitness.

To amputees who would like to start cycling I would suggest starting slowly and just building it up from there. If you ride 5km the first time that is okay, just keep at it and progress from there systematically.  It takes time,” concludes Reuben.


Written by: Liezel van Rensburg

Photo supplied by: Reuben van Niekerk