… still doing good – and doing it differently

It’s amazing how something that seems rather silly at first glance can turn into a national sensation. That’s how it was for the Daredevil Run, which made its debut 10 years ago one chilly and wet Friday afternoon during peak hour along Jan Smuts Avenue, Johannesburg.

The original Daredevil runners set off from Villa Arcadia on a chilly day in 2009

Since then thousands of men have run through the streets of cities and towns around the world in nothing but Speedos (and shoes, of course) to raise awareness of the types of cancer that affect men. In the process the Daredevil Run has also raised hundreds of thousands of rands to support related projects, such as mobile testing stations and a national database of medical professionals who specialise in male cancers.

“The realisation of the Daredevil Run really took no more than a few days from concept to bums in Speedos,” says Carel Nolte of CN&CO – who, in 2009, was head of people and brand at Etana Insurance. “A couple of mates had an idea to run through the streets of Joburg in Speedos during peak hour traffic and raise money for male cancer awareness.

“Within days we had assembled around 170 guys for our first run under the Etana Insurance banner. And the rest is history!

“The lesson here is: Time is no reason not do something… just start!”

The Daredevil Run has become a fixture across South Africa. What a joy

The run soon spread to other locations in South Africa, including Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, Nelspruit – and even Dullstroom.

“To this day there are still a few mates in Dullstroom who slip their Speedos on and do a lap around the block in support of the event every year,” says Carel.

We’ve also seen runs taking place in Miami and Washington DC in the USA, Maranello in Italy, London and a few other exotic locales. What’s great about it is that anyone can do it, wherever they are.

Paolo Cavalieri of ITOO Special Risks was chairman of Etana Insurance during the time that the company organised and hosted the event.

“Apart from everything else, this event epitomises the beauty of insurance at its core,” he says. “The networking, the relationships, doing good things – and doing them differently, dreaming big – and making it happen in a FUN WAY!

“Since the start we dreamt of this becoming something big in the future – and it has. Young, old, large and small all forget how they look and join in. We have Olympic medallists running alongside survivors. Boys as young as four participate as well as men well into their seventh decade.”

Guys getting jiggy in the 2012 Daredevil Run

Carel echoes Paolo’s sentiments around relationships and networking.

“We received support right from the start from the insurance media – notably Blake Dyason and Michael Kaufmann who, at the time, worked for RiskAfrica magazine; from Olympic rowing medallist Ramon di Clemente, from our PR whizzes Susan Ford and Gabbi Rego, our photographer Noel da Silva.

“The number of people who have contributed owing to personal stories has been huge. Gabbi’s dad had cancer, hence she wanted to volunteer. Noel himself passed away from cancer and the Daredevil Run contributed cash to his memory. The stories are endless.

“I also love that it’s about all bodies – tall or short, skinny or plump, ripped or average. The first year I rode in a golf cart and we made up the route along the way. Now I run, and often participate in marathons. We all have our stories and we can all contribute in some way. I love LOVE hearing people talk about the run without knowing we were the initiators. I recently heard a group of gym okes talking about how they’re looking forward to this year’s event.”

Today the Daredevil Run is organised and hosted by Hollard Insurance and attracts thousands of runners and spectators each year.

Nick Levesley of Leverage Commercial Real Estate was working at an audit firm in 2009 when he came up with the idea over a beer with a couple of mates.

Nick Levesley (front) and Justin Naylor at the inaugural Daredevil Run

“It is unreal how quickly a decade can pass!” he says. “The first run was really special because its size and success were so unexpected. The 170-odd guys who turned up at what as then Etana’s Joburg office, in the freezing cold, with no idea of what they had signed up, for is still something I regard as vaguely unbelievable.”

Since the run started, more than a hundred guys have been alerted early to the fact that they are at a high risk of contracting cancer, or in its early stages.

“This is phenomenal,” says Nick, “and the real reason why this event is something that all of us who have been a part of it from the start can be so proud of.

“At the beginning if someone had said that we would help or save just one person, we would have been thrilled. The time, energy, creativity and, of course money injected into the event over the last 10 years has made it bigger and more wildly successful than I could ever have imagined.”

Justin Naylor of ITOO Special Risks was also there at the very start.

“I was working at Etana Insurance in 2009,” he says. “I remember the day Daredevil was conceived very clearly – a few guys, a few beers and a challenge to run down Jan Smuts Avenue in our Speedos. Who could have guessed at the time what it would turn into?!

“Ten years later I’m proud to say I’ve participated in every single run, more recently with my sons – who weren’t even born yet when we started out! It feels incredible to be part of a movement that has grown into something so much more than surprising motorists in Friday afternoon peak-hour traffic.”

The start of the 2015 Daredevil Run

Here are some Daredevil Run memories from a few guys who have been around since the start:

Nick Levesley

Running with my son for the first time when he was just a few months old was a huge highlight. He is turning four this year and will be doing his fourth run – and will probably run a kilometre or two of the course himself this time

Getting a Guinness World Record (and a double-page photo in the annual book) was pretty awesome and has given me a great sound bite when I have to stand up at something like a conference for the inevitable “tell us something interesting about yourself?” type question and I hit them with, “I’m a current world record holder” and I see the panic dawn on the face of the person next in line! Beat that! Haha

Seeing Carel’s physical transformation from the first run to now has been pretty incredible, too. He’ll tell me to fcuk off for saying this, but just climbing into the golf cart at the first run had him puffed-out! Now he’s a seasoned Comrades runner and can get through that Speedo route in his sleep (running backwards… barefoot!)

Paolo Cavalieri

The Absa Currie Cup (the actual trophy) was in attendance at the finish of our third event. It was passed around and held by all and sundry, leading to some unforgettable memories – not to mention selfies.

The look on the faces of rush hour motorists is always unforgettable. 

We ran in Maranello, Italy, and spread the message far and wide. 

Blake Dyason

My first highlight was how running in a speedo made us all equal, from the CEO of a big company to a student. This allowed for great conversations and relationships to develop. 

One year Mike and I flew up from Cape Town to join the Johannesberg Speedo run starting at the Etana offices. We decided to run in white speedos (Etana had sponsored us for rowing) and white gumboots. It was by far the toughest and funnest 5 km run of my life. 

Another highlight was running-slash-walking with Carel in his first 5 km after saying the year before he was not a runner. 

Another great highlight was heading up the launch of the Cape Town Daredevil Run, which took place at Century City. We had hundreds of energised men running through the popular Crystal Towers Hotel in speedos

The 2019 Hollard Daredevil Run takes place on Friday, 15 March. For more info visit the Daredevil Run website.