Braam Malherbe, extreme adventurer, conservationist, author, and motivational speaker, first got a taste for adventure at the age of 16. At a Wilderness Leadership School at the iMfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu Natal in 1974, he was challenged to do something to be an asset to the planet. In response, the teenager resolved to undertake a momentous task: running 532 kilometres from Plettenberg Bay to Cape Town to raise R15000.

The money was to fund an Environmental Impact Assessment on a proposed construction project in the Langebaan Lagoon. The Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa was against the construction of a concrete jetty in the lagoon, but didn’t have the funds to pay for it. In response, Malherbe convinced people to sponsor him per kilometre, despite never before having run more than eight kilometres at a time.

The money was raised, the study completed, and in response, the jetty constructed in a way that wouldn’t alter water flow in the lagoon.

The undertaking was an indicator of things to come: extreme feats of physical and mental fortitude in the name of causes. “Ordinary becomes extraordinary when you are purpose-driven,” Malherbe said. His feats – including running the length of the Great Wall of China and the coastline of South Africa – are not for the glory of the undertaking, but for causes he believes to be significant.

After raising money for the lagoon, however, Malherbe wouldn’t undertake another such challenge for a long time.

Setbacks and Tragedies

Malherbe’s father, a publisher, lost his successful business and his affluence after being declared insolvent, splitting the family apart. The house was taken away. Malherbe went to live with a cousin and his sister moved in with an aunt. Their parents divorced. Soon, Malherbe’s father had a stroke and was placed in a government hospital.

“It scared me, so I forgot about significance and I became fear-motivated,” Malherbe said. “I swore this would never happen to me. I forgot about doing the right thing and I just chased money.”

He started a successful career in advertising, pursuing wealth – designer suits, expensive cars, the best parties in Cape Town.

But then, in 1984, Malherbe’s worst fears were realised – he was declared insolvent and lost everything – his house, his car, his career. His father, who had been living with him after a second stroke, was placed in a care centre and died a week later. His fiancée left him.

He resolved to go to the Cederburg mountains and kill himself.

Lying on a plateau, on what he had resolved would be the last night of his life, he said, he felt nothing.

And then a spotted eagle owl hooted.

“Something happened,” he said. “It was almost like nature brought me back to my senses. And I started crying. I felt this wet running down my cheek and I started crying…I realised that the greatest courage I would ever need to muster in my life was to go home and lead a life of purpose.”

 Picking Up The Pieces

Homeless, carless, jobless, Malherbe returned to Cape Town and started selling insurance for Liberty Life. He had lost his business because he hadn’t taken out insurance on a partner, and his personal story helped convince business owners to buy “key man” insurance policies on their partners.

Soon, he co-founded the Table Mountain Volunteer Wildfire Services, training volunteers to fight fires in Table Mountain National Park, which he actively ran for six years.

“The more you give, the more you get,” Malherbe said. “It’s a fundamental principle of life…and I was finding that the more I was giving, the more I was getting. And suddenly I was asked to give motivational talks.”

He started giving talks about his life transformation, and eventually became an internationally-acclaimed speaker. He was asked to be a presenter on SABC’s 50/50 nature program.

Extreme Undertakings

Success kept building. Malherbe again started undertaking seemingly impossible tasks to get recognition for the causes he felt strongly about.

In 2006, he found a new purpose to drive him when he and David Grier ran the entire length of the Great Wall of China, raising over R2million for Operation Smile SA. The 4200-kilometre run hadn’t been done before and hasn’t been done since.

The enterprise required the two to run the equivalent of a marathon a day, because there was only a thin margin of time (in September) in which it was possible to run in both the Gobi desert and the mountainous regions. As a result of the fundraising effort, over 420 children with cleft palates received corrective surgeries. Following the journey, Malherbe wrote “The Great Run” about the external and internal challenges he faced.

In 2008, Malherbe and Grier once again challenged themselves physically and mentally to raise money for children with cleft palates. This time, they ran 3300 kilometres around the coastline of South Africa from Oranjemund via Cape Town to Ponte d’Oro in Mozambique in 80 days.

In 2001, Malherbe teamed up with fellow endurance adventurer Pete Van Kets to represent South Africa in a race to the South Pole. Hauling sleds weighing about 85 kilograms each, at an average temperature of negative 45 degrees Celsius, they raced against six other teams to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Amundsen and Scott expeditions to the South Pole. Only three teams finished the 768-kilometre race, with Malherbe and Van Kets coming in third.

The race helped the adventurers highlight the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet and the effect of greenhouse emissions on the environment and climate.

Conservation

Also in 2011, Malherbe helped start the My Planet Rhino Fund, raising money to award to organisations and individuals with the best practises in Rhino Conservation. In addition, he’s one of the directors of Accountability Now, advising the group in issues of sustainability and accountability for South Africa’s biodiversity.

He’s an honorary ranger for the South African National Parks, an international ambassador for the Amy Biehl Foundation, which offers development programs to empower youth, and retains ties to the Wilderness Leadership School he attended as a teenager, acting as an international ambassador.

He’s received numerous awards for his efforts – among them, being named Men’s Health 2010 Unsung Hero, listed in City Press as a Top 100 World Class South African, and granted the 2015 Toastmasters International Communications and Leadership Award.

His next project? Rowing across the Atlantic.

On December 26th, Malherbe and Van Kets will set out to row the route of the Cape To Rio Yacht Race in a 7-metre rowboat.

“He’ll sleep for two hours and I’ll be rowing for two hours,” he said. “I’ll sleep for two hours, he’ll row for two hours. And we’ll row on and off like that 24/7, through the night, for three months. 6700 kilometres.”

They’re rowing to raise awareness of climate change and to promote an app that will launch in September of this year. The DOT app (short for Do One Thing), will teach users how to conserve water, reduce waste, diminish energy usage, conserve biodiversity, and educate themselves and others about the environment.

“I’ve always said ‘Our planet is just a dot in the universe, we’re just dots on the planet,’” Malherbe said. “But if each of us ‘D’ ‘O’ ‘T’, Do One Thing, collectively we reshape the planet’s future.”

They estimate that rowing will take 2.3 million pulls, so their goal is to have 2.3 million people download the free app by the time they reach Rio.

Despite all of his adventuring and all of his success, Malherbe remains extraordinary grounded through his commitment to conservation and to protecting the environment.

“What I wish more South Africans knew in terms of conservation is that every single thing is connected, and that there is a value, a genuine value, to everything,” he said. “I’m not talking about the rhino’s horn, I’m talking about the actual rhino. There’s a value to that animal.”

Podcast

Listen to Braam Malherbe’s podcast, on his life story, youth development, unemployment, mentorship, and conservation, below.

For more stories and podcasts that inspire, please visit the SPICE4LIFE website, check out ourSoundCloud account, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter @Spice4Life_ .

To keep up with Braam Malherbe’s adventures, follow him on Facebook, Twitter @braammalherbe, and Instagram or visit his website, www.braammalherbe.com.

Leave a Reply