Around October last year, there was a buzz of excitement in Gaborone with news that a speciality running store was opening up in Sebele Mall – aptly named GRIP Runner. I recently had the privilege of interviewing Gobona Mantle who is a co-founder of GRIP Runner which she expertly juggles with her cycling coaching school as well as her events and timing business. Gobona is also an avid cyclist who has participated in several epic races including the Kalahari Challenge, Cradle Traverse 3-Day MTB, Route 66 MTB, Magalies Monster MTB, Dimension Data Route 73, 947 Ride Joburg and the Cape Town Tour. In this interview, Gobona opens up about establishing GRIP Runner but also speaks passionately about her cycling school and her desire to lead and mentor a Girls MTB Team to national and international levels of success.
What inspired you and your partners to establish GRIP Runner? How did you come up with the name? The runner community was quickly growing in Botswana and yet there were no specific running shops here with the likes of Mr Price, Total Sports, JB Sport and Vision Sports concentrating more on fashion. So myself, my husband and, at that time future business partner, saw an opportunity to open a running specific store covering road, trail and hiking shoes with well-recognised brands. The name was my doing – I was trying to come up with a name for a girls MTB riding team and then thought, “Hey GRIP is also ideal for running!” and so the name stuck. We partnered with retail and distribution specialist Neville Sparrow. Neville brings many years of experience in retail and particularly the GARMIN brand. We decided to make GARMIN one of the cornerstone brands and actually be a GARMIN concept store as well.
Tell us about the services and products you offer? We offer road, trail and hiking shoes with our brands being ASICS, HOKA, Salomon, Saucony, Adidas and First Ascent. We complete the running range of shoes with GARMIN, Shokz (bone conductivity headsets), Aonijie hydration backpacks and accessories, Funky Pants, Lifting Africa gym and fitness wear, PowerBar sports nutrition, Belaga Running Socks and Adidas sport sunglasses. We pride ourselves on service and our staff always endeavour to be very interactive, approaching all customers as they enter our store and attending to their needs. We have built a strong knowledge base around our brands and can assist our customers in choosing the best shoe for their particular endeavour (short, medium or long distance, road, trail or hiking, neutral or pronated, we have it covered). We even go back to the traditional way of measuring your foot to ensure the size is right!
What do you want GRIP Runner to be known for? All runners, hikers and walkers’ FIRST and LAST stop for quality and well-priced running, hiking and walking shoes and accessories. A business that cares for our customers and listens to their needs.
GRIP Runner is also involved in the SPAR Community Challenge which I’ve blogged about here and here. Tell us a bit more about the Challenge. This is a 9-part running series with monthly runs from April to December, with two distances – 5K and 10K. There is a leader board for each race (and series) and also spot prizes and finisher medals at each event. We had known Neville Royston from SPAR, an avid runner and running event advocate, for some time and he was a regular visitor and supporter of our GRIP Runner shop. So one day he came in and said he’d like to put together a running series and would like us to be involved. When he told us it was for charity and the concept of a series we fell in love with the idea and asked him how we could support it. Then all the hard work started but we believe the series is starting to take shape quite nicely with participation levels and support building with each race!
In the spirit of community and uplifting society, we are planning, as far as is practical, to donate all the proceeds from the entry fees towards the charity, “Gamodubu Children’s Trust”. This is a children’s home based outside of Molepolole which currently houses about fifty-four children full time. They are fed, clothed and sent to school through community support and third party donors, many of which have fallen away during the COVID pandemic. Through the entry fees collected at each run we hope to be able to support them through assistance with bedding, clothing, medical supplies, food and any other immediate needs they may have.
What an incredible initiative and such a worthy cause. Now let’s talk about your cycling exploits! How did you get into cycling? I got into cycling to keep fit and to meet new friends. Mountain biking has really been my passion from the beginning but I also enjoy road cycling from time to time. Shortly after I started cycling, I was given the opportunity to be a development rider with the Gaborone Cycling Club (GCC). This experience changed my life forever and today I still meet and ride with my fellow riders from back then.
As time went by I was looking to utilise my riding skills combined with my Bachelor of Arts degree and Advanced Diploma of teaching to teach and guide younger upcoming riders as I see them as the future of our sport. I also saw an opportunity to mentor the girl child riders. I was lucky enough, although a lot of hard work also made it happen, to get a scholarship by the Botswana National Olympic Committee (BNOC) to go to the UCI World Cycling Centre in Argyle Switzerland to undertake Level 1 and 2 cycle coaching and Level 1 mechanics. I also recently completed the BCIP Level 1 instructors course for MTB and today I’m one of only a handful of UCI certified coaches in Botswana and the only MTB certified coach.
This is brilliant – well done! What is it about mountain biking that you love? I love getting onto the trails – the bush always tests your skills and you need to be thinking and alert all the time. The accomplishment of riding up a steep rocky hill, coming down a fast single track or pushing my competitors in a race is such a thrill and adrenaline rush for me. I love riding in my own backyard at Kgale, Mokolodi and Notwane. There are always challenges but it has some of the best riding I’ve had the pleasure of doing.
But I also love my international experience in the Magalies area (Magalies Monster, Cradle Traverse, Route 66) and a much smaller but special race at Groot Marico that is so picturesque whilst still being very technical and fast in places.
Tell us about your cycling school. My cycling coaching business started from my passion for teaching and a need to coach our children and adults on the basic and more advanced skills for cycling – even just to teach people of all ages to ride. I have been blessed in my cycling career to be competitive in races, to do many races both within Botswana and South Africa and to be professionally trained and certified to coach and train others, particularly children. My greatest experience has been to organise MTB races for kids and now this year we will be continuing the Kids Shredders Challenge with the support from our primary sponsor Paratus.
What has your cycling journey taught you about yourself? My cycling journey has given me mental and physical strength. I have learnt about sports event management through my events and timing company Lifecycle Events and Timing and the importance of customer service and wherever possible being punctual and on your game.
What have been some of the challenges of running the school? The challenges have been getting the word out that cycling can be taught professionally and that a female Motswana can do a very good job of it. I have also faced competition from others who saw the opportunity once I got it started, but hey, “Bring it on!” I say as I know I’m very good at what I do when it comes to cycle coaching and my professional service will ultimately win the day!”
As a mum, businesswoman, cyclist and now a runner too… how do you balance it all? I get a lot of support from home, my husband and daughter, and friends which helps immensely. I still enjoy my free time and do take the opportunity to recharge the batteries with early morning rides and runs and catching up with Netflix at night. Interestingly, running is new to me but I’ve found that running complements my cycling and actually builds my cycling strength.
Looking ahead, what are some of the goals you’d like to accomplish on both the professional and personal front? I want to successfully get through the first 12 months of trading with GRIP Runner and then start to open and grow branches around Botswana. My cycle coaching and events and timing businesses are equally my passion and I intend on growing them to offer a fully integrated sporting experience for our customers. I have a passion for getting a girls MTB team established and wish to see them succeed in international events even going to the Olympics. I also want to see more of my students on the podiums at races and feeding into our cycling clubs in Botswana. I want to be able to ride up the steep route at the new Kgale water tank site and do the half marathon at the Victoria Falls Marathon in July.
These are all such superb goals. Thank you Gobona for sharing your story with us. I have no doubt that you will achieve all of them and we will continue to support your store as well as your running and cycling events.