On Friday evening, 12 April, a crowd gathered on Drostdy Lawns where coals were laid out on the lawns’ pathway.
The smoky smell lingered in the air long before the crowd could be seen gathered around the small, rectangular fire pit of smouldering coals. In front of the pit was a runway of 4m of grass which had been placed on the walkway. At the end of the runway was a bucket of ice-cold water and a semi-circle of camera tripods set up, ready to catch the fire walkers in action.
Professional firewalker Gordon Cooper gave a motivational speech to the participants before their walk. Having hosted and completing fire walks for over 20 years, he also broke a Guinness World Record for the longest fire walk – 75m – before the record went to someone else. In November, he plans to attempt to break the current record by doing a 100m fire walk in Colorado.
Cooper spread the glowing coals onto the runway of grass, which cushions the feet while walking. He explains the science behind fire walking: “The whole foot must touch the coals, which smothers the oxygen. Then it doesn’t burn as much. You must walk hard and flat.”
Cooper was the first to walk the burning pathway, encouraged by the visualisation chant from the crowd of “Ice cold snow! Ice cold snow!” After he had done the first walk, participants eagerly lined up to accomplish the impossible.
Cooper held each walker by the upper arm and set a brisk pace for their walk. Every person took four to five firm steps, each without a moment’s hesitation at the start.
Dr Vivian de Klerk, Dean of Students, did not participate in the walk but organised a replacement of sorts. “I value my feet and I’m allergic to fire,” she joked. “I really support the cause and bribed Roger Adams [to participate]. I’m ready here with my car to take him to hospital if he needs,” de Klerk said.
Adams, the Deputy Dean of Students, said before the walk he was cautiously excited.
Brad Bense, SRC Vice President, also completed the fire walk. “It’s crunchy, like walking on gravel,” he said. “I felt tingling – you don’t feel heat. It’s like walking on an icy mountain if you look forward and don’t look at the coals.”
Before the walk the 36 participants had to raise a minimum sponsorship of R265. Terryl McCarthy, who had the idea of the fire walk and had done it in her 20s, hoped students celebrating at the Rat and Parrot would raise even more funds by bragging to friends after their walk.
Give5 is an initiative of the Rhodes Alumni Development Office and the SRC. It aims to get students to raise funds for other students who are on financial aid, giving them a small amount of pocket money each term so that they can enjoy the complete experience of university, both academically and socially.
The Give5 Campaign Week kicks of on Monday 15 April.
The only people to get injured at this event were two keen spectators who had climbed a tree in order to get a better view. A loud crack was followed by the dull thud of two people falling to the ground. They seemed a little bruised, but mostly unharmed.