It’s a hot, humid Wednesday evening and I’m on my way to meet Hanneke Dannhauser, SA’s Jeep Warrior champion – winner of the obstacle course running series. She creamed the competition at her last race in Gauteng, winning in Muldersdrift by a staggering 20 minutes. It’s not hard to see why. This Bloemfontein plaasmeisie is all muscle and steely determination.
Text and photography: Nick van der Leek
Hanneke Dannhauser’s recent triumph in the Jeep Warrior obstacle course running race in Muldersdrift was no aberration or one-off. In 2014, she led the point standings all year. Even late in the season after she fell on a monkey swing and fractured an ankle, she still finished third (crossing the finish line doing a handstand) and maintained her national ranking as top female racer.
Despite her doctor’s orders to rest, friends’ advice to stay at home and persistent pain and stiffness in the ankle, Hanneke jetted off to the world championships in Cincinnati in October. She had given the fracture seven weeks to heal, during which she concentrated on developing her upper body. The trip to the US was worthwhile – she came fifth, despite her handicap.
Hanneke returned to race in the national championships, and clinching the series seemed a formality, but disaster struck. The championship in December involved 20km of running and 30 obstacles. A slip at a critical moment resulted in Hanneke conceding victory and the R100 000 prize to Carla van Huyssteen.
This is why Hanneke wanted to start this year with a bang, and she did. She invited me to join her on a “recovery” run just three days after her race, and even though I had been training for the 56km Two Oceans Marathon, I needed a long time to catch my breath after our run together. The girl is a speedster!
When we arrived back, we walked past a polished black Wrangler Jeep parked in her driveway. Hanneke won it when it when she came first in the first Jeep obstacle race of 2015 and will get to keep it as long as she’s winning obstacle course races.
There’s an interesting anecdote behind how she won the Wrangler. I ask her about it.
“Well,” she smiles, clearly enjoying the memory, “the night before the race I went up to the Jeep and introduced myself. I told it, ‘You’re mine’.”
I suggest that it answered back, “Yes, I’m yours!” She laughs, easily and confidently.
How does it drive? She says it’s super luxurious, with a plush black interior, and she’s surprised by all the electronics. Also, one can remove the roof. In the Free State, where it seldom rains, this is a huge benefit.
I fire off a few questions.
What does the Jeep Warrior race involve, exactly? Hanneke, a 27-year-old brunette with dark brown eyes, explains: “The Warrior race, better known as obstacle course racing, requires participants to run predetermined off-road trails and overcome various hand built and natural obstacles on the way.”
Where are the races held? “There are currently eight races a year. Some of them are in North West Province, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, but the majority are held in Gauteng.”
What makes them special? Hanneke says the series is a nice challenge, mentally and physically. “Each race is different, and I like the mystery of not knowing what to expect each time. I go full out, and give it my all!”
Do men compete against women? “We start at the same time and do all the same obstacles, but there are separate sections for men and women.”
And when she’s not training to be a warrior? “Being healthy and fit enables you to get the most out of life,” she says. “Eugene Daamen, owner of Perfect Pulse Gym in Bloemfontein, introduced me to the fitness world, and gave me the opportunity to do what I love every day of my life. I’m currently a personal trainer at the gym.
“My main goal, besides going for gold at the warrior race finals, is to motivate, inspire and educate others about the benefits of exercising and living a healthy lifestyle.”
Hanneke has done well in her first year of competition. In 2014 she was also selected as one of the six finalists in the USN Face of Fitness, and was one of a handful of girls shortlisted to make the cover of Fitness magazine. It was rumoured that had she won the last event, she would have. But 2015 is another year filled with challenges and opportunities, and so far Hanneke is meeting them, and grabbing them (and driving them) with both hands.
Besides hardcore racing, she simply enjoys being physically fit and getting herself out there. On Facebook, at the time of writing, Hanneke has posted photos of herself and some friends climbing through a gate and mountain biking up the ultra-steep Radarkop, which is about 5km north of Bloemfontein. That’s part of her training for the Argus cycling race. But the training isn’t just blood, sweat and tears. Hanneke seems to really enjoy it. It’s her way of having fun.
When we take the Wrangler out for a spin, it’s hard to tell whether Hanneke makes the Jeep look sexier, or the other way round. One thing is clear, they’re a great match.
Expect big things from Hanneke this year, and don’t be surprised if she bags the world championship, too. If you ask me, that Jeep is going to be Hanneke’s all year, and for the foreseeable future.