What do Red Sock Friday (RSF) & Unogwaja have in common? John McInroy.
Most people in the world live a banal existence, fading into the background, doomed to a life of ordinary, but some people are destined for greatness. When these select few walk into rooms the aura changes. You can’t help but ask yourself what makes them special. Everything they do is driven with purpose and headed for success.
Enter John McInroy – It goes without saying he is part of the latter.
We recently sat down with John, and tried to get inside the mind of shoOops! We asked him about his first venture- Red Sock Friday (RSF).
For those who don’t know, Red Sock Friday, a movement dedicated to making a difference, being passionate, inspiring others and being inspired (and strongly linked to charity), which sees individuals donning red socks on Fridays. This initiative started as a link between John and his best friend. It was something that would remind them both of that friendship and reinforce that bond. No matter the distance between them and the different paths their lives would take.
At what point did that symbolic act – between 2 friends turn into a movement; At what point did he realise that it was something other people wanted to participate in?
“We just started wearing the socks for fun every Friday. Like our little “vibe”. Soon after people in my office in Dublin became very inquisitive and this eventually led to them getting red socks and wearing them every Friday too! My housemate started wearing red socks, quickly followed by his colleagues at KPMG. We used to send photos amongst each other and I guess it led from there! I sent socks to special friends and my family all over the world to say “thank you” for the special part they had played in my life. This was a way for us to be connected no matter where we were. I can remember a special “sock hand-over” at Ian’s wedding in Bahamas too”. (Ian Symons “Symmo”, John’s friend, eventually married the girl he met in Dublin – That separated them, starting red sock Friday)
Red Sock Friday launched in April 2010. It has seen nearly 13 000 pairs of socks in over 50 different countries sold. It is certainly growing, but does Red Sock Friday still hold its original meaning or has it evolved? Does John’s friend still wear his red socks?
“For me it definitely still holds its original meaning, but has also become so much more. It has become something I associate with following my heart, taking chances and not being scared to fail, putting myself out there, loving! Since I decided to pursue this dream of covering the world map in red socks, I resigned from my job, I studied my MBA in Ireland and India, and it has led me to incredible experiences I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams!”
My Grandfather, Snowy McInroy, who meant a lot to me and looked after me a great deal when I returned to SA from UK without my parents, aged 16. His funeral was on a Friday. Many friends and family wore red socks on this day to honour his special life. The origin of the red socks emerged from the Second World War and honouring special friends that did not make it back, so this element has remained a part of it.
I will never forget attending the funeral of Dave Eadie, a close friend of mine’s brother. Red socks were
worn by 100s of people to celebrate an amazing human being.
The red socks have become something that mean something different to each individual but the common thread seems to a real passion for life and positive energy!
And yah, Symmo still wears his socks every Friday. He lives in USA with his wife and son! He was with me in Cape Town a couple weeks back. First time I had seen him in a couple years. I went to fetch him at the airport. He wore his red socks and so did I (and it wasn’t a Friday and we hadn’t planned this or shared it!!). Was a really special moment!!”
One can’t deny that the thing that makes Red Sock Friday is the personal feel of it. But with the exceptional growth of the movement how does one prevent it from becoming commercialised and make sure it retains its grassroots feeling? Can you combine ‘world domination’ with a community feel?
John isn’t worried about that, he says, “There have been many challenges to this along the way. Some that were very stressful for me. The most important aspect for me is that it retains its essence and remains true. It now finds itself in a place where the movement continues to grow in “its own steam” without any commercial pressure which I’m really happy about. I still believe that the world map will one day be covered in red socks! In fact a friend of mine sent me a postcard that reminds me of this!”
One might wonder what makes something like Red Sock Friday successful. Is it because it represents something hopeful and bigger to a generation who are looking for something to give the everyday more meaning?
“I don’t think there is any such thing as success or failure with a journey of the heart like this. It is what it is. Embarking on the journey is what it important! I’m just happy that is has reached other people all over the world. It feels awesome to think of people on different sides of the globe connected through red socks!” says John.
Red Sock Friday has seen many memorable moments for John, one being his first marathon in 2010 in Lesotho. “I saw in the distance what looked like a pair of knee highs. I eventually caught up to get a close up! She was rocking the “shoOops!”” I was so stoked! She then went on to tell me that it is an initiative called
“Red Sock Friday” that started in London!! I then told her that I also rock the shoOops! Later on she discovered my involvement!”. He went on to say, “There have been so many classic moments! If I ever need a bit of luck I put on my red socks! They are like a magnet to positive vibes and people!”
Shortly after Red Sock Friday’s official inception, the Unogwaja challenge was launched. Unogwaja – which sees a handful of incredible (or crazy? Inspired?) people cycle from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg in 10 days. If that is not enough, they then run the Comrades marathon on day 11. The Unogwaja challenge and RSF share an origin.
Unogwaja was inspired by the story of Phil Masterson-Smith. In 1931, Masterton-Smith, who was given the nickname “Unogwaja” meaning hare (as in the animal) in Zulu became the youngest ever Comrades winner aged 19. A record, that still stands to this day. In1933, he lived in Cape Town and couldn’t afford the train fare to Pietermaritzburg to participate in the Comrades. Instead of giving up, he cycled the distance and incredibly finished 10th that year.
But how did Unogwaja actually start? In December 2010, Dr WP van Zyl, whom John had never met before, came to him with that story. “His determination and will power inspired me greatly. Van Zyl went on to say that Masterton-Smith died in the Second World War, at the Battle of Tobruk on 5th June 1942. This was the defining moment for me. It felt as though “it was written” that I do this as it had so much connection to the red socks. Following my heart meant doing this!”
The connection between Red Sock Friday & Unogwaja only came some time later when, “Via a passionate red socker in Port Elizabeth, we discovered that the original red socker who was the inspiration behind the story of the red socks was captured at the Battle of Tobruk in 1942. I couldn’t believe this! His name is Sidney Feinson and it is conceivable that he crossed paths with Masterton-Smith. Feinson made a pact with 2 of his friends at an Italian POW camp that if any of them made it back alive they would wear red socks to always be together and never forget each other.”
During Unogwaja 2012, the bond between Red Sock Friday & Unogwaja was heightened when, cycling just outside Mount Fletcher – in the middle of nowhere, with snow on the mountains, John saw in the distance a school boy cycling in what looked like red socks, “I caught up with him and we ended up cycling for a while together until he had to turn off for his school. It was a very special moment for
me sharing with him what red socks meant to me!”
Unogwaja has had two successful rounds, in both 2011 and 2012. In 2011 John headed the journey along with Dr WP Van Zyl, Lourens Van Zyl and Paul Blake. In 2012 Miranda Symons (Sister to “Symmo”) the first female, joined that same team. In 2013, for the first time, entries are opened. A larger, yet still exclusive team, will once again set out on this epic journey. With the Comrades Marathon officially associating themselves with Unogwaja, it is set to become one of the most unique and exclusive biathlons in the world.
Unogwaja, epic to some, yet crazy to others, is heavily associated with raising money for charity. Why is it that in order to raise money for charity one has to embark on crazy adventures? Is it more about the exposure and awareness you create by doing so or is it because people respond more and will give more when you go out there and do something out of the ordinary?
“The moment Unogwaja Challenge was born, I believed it was something that could not only inspire many people in their own lives to do the things they never believed were possible or at least try, but could also be a means to raise significant funds for charity. The first person I contacted was Noelene of the Pink Drive Breast Cancer charity. Noelene was instrumental in getting the first ever Unogwaja off the ground.
Without her it would not have been possible.”
In the last few years John has certainly accomplished more than your average 30 year old! Where to from here? In 5 years from now, where does John see himself, Red Sock Friday & the Unogwaja challenge?
“If you had asked me this two years ago there is NO WAY I would have come close to saying where I am and what I am doing now so I am not even going to try! All I know is that this will look after itself if I remain true to myself and keep following my heart!
The Unogwaja Challenge is in good hands and I believe that alongside Comrades Marathon Association we are going to build the world’s most unique and iconic biathlon that is going to inspire a lot of people and make a positive difference! I am dreaming of Unogwaja 2013. In particular the day before we leave. This is when people gather from all over SA and the world to join together to embark on this special journey. This journey can really have a life-changing impact on those who are part of it!!!
As for the red socks, they are going to continue doing their thing and who knows in 5 years time that world map could be looking a lot more red!! I gotta feeling it’s going to happen! shoOooooppppsss!!! ;)”
Ps. Ever wondered what ShoOops! means? “It is something that has no real meaning in any language but is “understood” across the world! It is becoming an expression for following your heart!! sshhhooooOOOOoooooooooopppppssssss!!!! Just say it out loud and you’ll discover its meaning & vibe!”
To get more inspiration & find out more, see John’s profile board and follow Unogwaja & Red Sock Friday on Twitter & Facebook