“Life is about so much more than money”
Most mornings, Louis is up early working in his veggie garden. Neighbours are often surprised by bundles of beans or a couple of tomatoes on their stoep when they open their doors.
“My dad was a farmer in Grobblersdaal and Vaalharts, where he grew tobacco, corn, peanuts and spanspek. He never ate meat.” Louis prefers not to eat meat either – his favourite foods being sweet potatoes, broccoli and pumpkin. “My mom was the sweetest lady in the world. She cooked us good food and although she didn’t have much she always found something to give to someone else who needed it.” No doubt the healthy food, a strong sense of community and helping others, as well as the freedom to live outdoors has had a major influence on his adult life. “We had nothing materially, but so many experiences.” He recalls spending weeks on end in the Kalahari, running across the sand dunes. After organic food and the great outdoors, Louis believes that running is the best doctor.
He was the first man to achieve 22 consecutive Silver medals in the Comrades Marathon – he has run 32, the first when he was 32 years old. Louis came across Sam Tshabalala running for Frankfort Marathon Club, saw his potential and helped train him – Sam went on to became the first black runner to win the Comrades. Amongst his many achievements, Louis also holds the record for the fastest 100km (6h58min10sec) – set in 1985 and unbroken since.
Louis moved to the Vaal Triangle to work in 1973. “I love being in nature, but here there is not so much nature. Running makes me feel closer to the earth. I ran 15kms to work in Sasolburg and 15 kms home again every day.” Nowadays he does more mountain biking than running, and lots of vegetable gardening, of course.
One of the nicest, wildish spots in Van der Bijl Park is Klipbaai on the Vaal River where Louis sometimes goes to fish, canoe and watch birds. He is constantly astonished that people destroy beautiful mountains, dunes and rivers to build enormous houses – particularly noticeable along the Vaal River. The Vaal also used to be very polluted, but is vastly improved now, much to his delight. Louis tests the water quality weekly and is often involved in clean up campaigns along the river banks.
Louis organises many sporting events for charity including the Meals on Wheels Cycle Race. Louis and his team create very special trophies for the winners of the Meals on Wheels challenge and a very interesting thing started to happen on the podium. “The winners gave the prize money back to us and just kept the trophy – one person started and now everyone does it.” The Rockman is his newest event – an off-road version of a triathlon. He explains “I could see people wanting to get out of the cities, to leave the buildings and the rat race. Die stadsjaapie moet uitkom.” Louis thoroughly enjoys entertaining city folk in the countryside. “It’s fantastic to see them start to think, to change their minds about money and what is important in life.”
Louis loves to ensure that the sun shines on everyone. He often stops to help people along the road and believes that small, respectful gestures make a real difference. It is apparent from the enormous pumpkin patch in front of the office and workshop that the Harmse family can’t eat all they produce. “I just give it away, there are lots of hungry people and I can help them with good, fresh, organic food.”
Just Do It should be Louis’ motto, not Nike’s!