Johann, 61, tackles tar for MS awareness

Stephan Lourens, Johann Nothnagel, Justus Visagie and Non Smit from Multiple Sclerosis South Africa (MSSA) at the launch of Johanns 13-day road trip.

Johann Nothnagel is on a journey to inspire others to continue living life to the full after they have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Johann has been living with the degenerative disorder of the central nervous system for seven years.

On Friday, he waved farewell to a small group of people who had come to Hyundai Milnerton to wish him well and started a 4 000km motorcycle road trip to support South Africans with MS and raise awareness about the crippling illness.

His first stop will be in Barrydale. From there, he heads to Graaff-Reinet, Bethulie, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Clarens, Durban, Ugie, Port Elizabeth, Mossel Bay then back to Cape Town.

Johann, 61, was only diagnosed with MS in 2009, but has had the symptoms all his life.

“I had ringing ears, pins and needles in my fingers and toes and restless-leg syndrome from time to time. In matric, my eyes started to give me trouble and I got spectacles. Then, a few months later, it was fine, and I didn’t need them anymore.”

Vision problems are a common symptom of MS, and Johann has battled with this on and off over the years.

A few years ago, his right leg started getting weaker.

“One day, I was walking on the beach with friends in Mossel Bay, and I couldn’t lift my leg out of the sand. They convinced me to see a doctor, and it took a few weeks to figure out what was wrong.”

The condition has had little effect on his work as a computer programmer, but he now walks with a crutch.

“I’ve been walking with a crutch since the end of 2010. My leg would suddenly collapse, and I would fall down, so the crutch is a preventative measure,” he says.

Johann has always loved motorbikes and he used to ride them when he was a youngster, but his ex-wife didn’t like them, and so his days of burning rubber became a thing of the past. It was only years after his divorce that he decided to take up the hobby again.

“Basically a year before I was diagnosed, I got a bike again. Then I got the news and I stopped riding again.”

In 2011, he was ready to hit the road, and he decided on a road trip to raise awareness for MS.

“The idea was to do it annually, but it didn’t work out that way. The next trip was in 2013. Other motorcyclists joined me for short distances along the way.”

This year, Johann has a partner who will join him for the better part of the trip. Motoring writer Justus Visagie will ride alongside Johann for six days of the 13-day road trip.

“It’s a privilege to ride with Johann and get to know the MS community,” says Justus.

Professional motorcycle tour guide Stephan Lourens will also join Johann on the road for a few days.

Johann says its hard to say how many South Africans have MS but there are believed to be about 5 000.

“People don’t disclose this information easily because it can influence work and family relationships, and people feel self-conscious. My message to people with MS is to not give up. Try and do whatever you can regardless of MS”.

Johann is expected back around Thursday September 8.