Courageous business woman and director, Karen Petersen, is swapping the boardroom for a Jag during one of the continent’s most unique motor rallies.
Backed by her sponsor, SADC Plan, the ‘Padvarkies’ crew which is headed up by Petersen and includes her 75-year-old parents, will accelerate out of the starting blocks at the annual Put Foot Rally in Cape Town on June 17. They are expected to finish this gruelling but epic journey amid much dust and fanfare on July 5 in Mozambique.
Described by SADC Plan founder and owner, Trivi Arjunan, as “an adventurer with a passion for wanting to help those less fortunate than herself”, Petersen has already begun to raise funds for the Put Foot Foundation as well as her charity of their choice, Gift of the Givers. She’s counting the days.
The Put Foot Rally, which began in 2011, is an epic road trip that brings together people from across the world for a 9 000 km plus journey through the rough but beautiful terrain of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique.
Participants – affectionately known as Put Footers – each raise a minimum of $50 (R750) which goes towards buying school shoes. The Put Foot Foundation aims to provide young African children with school shoes whilst also contributing towards conservation of endangered animals such as rhino, elephant, lion and leopard.
This year, the Foundation aims to raise the equivalent of R1 million which will enable it to purchase and gift over 6000 pairs of shoes to school children. These will be personally delivered by Put Footers like Petersen in an array of vehicles that range from quirky vintage models to more rugged roadsters and campers.
Over the past three years, the Foundation and its Put Footers have provided over 15 000 pairs of new school shoes and donated over $60,000 to charities protecting rhino in South Africa.
What sets the Put Foot Rally apart from other motor sport events, is that this is not a race. There is no prize and no set route with crews needing to map out their own routes to arrive at the mandatory check points in the various countries along the way.
Although offered a vehicle by her sponsor, Petersen decided to use her own. “It’s a Jaguar F-Pace, the 4×4/SUV version, and, as far as I know, it’s the only Jaguar entry in this year’s rally. I bought it in late 2016 and, barely a month and almost 5 000km later, managed to complete a road trip to Cape Town that took four days!” she says.
Despite naming her crew ‘Padvarkies’ and getting a fluffy pink porker as a mascot, Petersen promises that she won’t be driving like a road hog! “My pink pig mascot will be fastened to the front of the car and I am sure the other crews will have a good laugh. I intend to make it through all the checkpoints and shoe-drops as well as cross the finish line in Vilanculos, Mozambique, and fly the Jaguar flag high!” she laughs.
According to the Put Foot rules, “captains” like Petersen are not permitted to travel alone. “I’ve chosen my 75-yr old parents as my companions. My father will be my co-driver and navigator and my mother the crew photographer. With their dry sense of humour, the trip will be a pleasure. Besides, I am bad at changing tyres. That’s where my father comes in!” she explains.
Her father is a perfect choice as, as a classic car enthusiast, he has contributed towards her love for cars and her choice of career together with her rally driver younger brother!
Petersen says that her love for travelling as well as cars and motor bikes started at a young age.
Now further down the track, she also admits that this won’t be her first rally. A couple of years ago, she completed a 3 week off-road bike trip covering 13 of South Africa’s mountain passes and ports in KZN and the Western Cape.
She is also looking forward to doing a bike trip through the Indian Himalayas on a Royal Enfield as well as Route 66 on a Harley in the next few years.
Born in Cape Town, she moved to Botswana with her parents and brother during the apartheid days and did the bulk of her schooling there – only returning to Cape Town to complete her matric in 1988.
As the daughter of a builder, she says her greatest ambition was to work on a construction site as either a contracts manager or foreman. But her father wasn’t convinced and instead encouraged her to study music. Instead, she opted for architecture and began her studies at the University of Cape Town during the late eighties.
On completing her degree, she branched off into city and regional planning, graduating with a Masters in City and Regional Planning.
She arrived in Durban and worked for several local and national companies. After obtaining her professional registration with the South African Council of Planners, she opened her own private practice in 2001.
The next 5 years proved to be a huge learning curve, with exposure and experience gained through several international multi-disciplinary projects. But being a “one-(wo)man band” was lonely and the gregarious Peterson accepted an offer to become a project manager at a large land developer active in the Durban region.
That proved another steep, but rewarding, learning curve. She added an MBA to her qualifications and became the first female director on the organisation’s board in 2016. She also won the KZN Women in Property (WPN) award in the professional/corporate sector in that year.
Like the many potholes and obstacles that she’s gearing up for during the Put Foot Rally, she has tackled a number of challenges along the way. These include being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of just 35.
“I had to undergo surgery, chemotherapy and radiation which took the large part of 2007.So, to get my mind off my illness and what I couldn’t do, I chose to focus on outdoor activities, managing to complete several canoe marathons, trail running and mountain bike events. When I was finally given the all-clear, I rewarded myself with a Harley Davidson sportster and, in 2015, I did an epic road trip to Cape Town from Durban,” she remembers.
Always ready to put others before herself, Petersen says that, if town planning consultancy, SADC-Plan, had not sponsored Padvarkies, this trip would not have been possible.
“Our company is supporting her with any assistance she may need, such as vehicle equipment (tyres), fuel and ancillary costs, food and accommodation as well as visa, border fees, 3rd party insurances etc. There is no back up or support vehicle and she will basically be on her own,” says Arjunan.
She’ll be their roving ambassador who will post her adventures during Put Foot on social media whilst also providing good market intel and contributing to SADC Plan’s motto of “Progressing Plans in Africa”. Her vehicle will be fully branded with SADC Plan logos during the rally. SADC Plan has always been committed to CSI through previous initiatives, and this one will be their 1stand biggest one outside the country.
SADC-Plan is a local town planning consulting company at the progressive end of the African urban planning market with a range of services that include integrated master planning, urban renewal, urban design and regeneration, rural development and local economic development, development facilitation services and management, programme management & statutory planning.
In September 2017, SADC-plan formed a strategic partnership with Urban Futures Consulting to establish Beta (Built Environment Training Academy) – a Section 21 company that provides employment to unemployed graduates in the built environment for 18 months.
“SADC-Plan’s vision is to become a significant contributor to the planning and development of Southern African cities within the next 20 years and this initiative is an ideal platform to launch this vision. Through this initiative SADC-plan and Beta are developing our marketing reach into Africa and we hope to get the exposure that helps us work in these regions,” he says.
Those that are interested in donating to the Put Foot Foundation is requested to donate directly via https://ww.givengain.com/activist/209267/projects/16291/ in order to help meet the goal of raising R1 million to gift 6 000 pairs of shoes.