A Man With Heart | The Greg Bertish Story
Greg Bertish is well-known for his passion and determination to help and support children who are experiencing tough times in hospital by bringing a little cheer back into their lives. His story is an inspiring one. The latest issue of Sail + Leisure magazine features a full report on the Cape Town International Boat Show and Greg’s Celebrity Optimist Challenge, which raised funds for the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.
We look at the man behind the mission.
The story of ‘The Little Optimist’
In April 2016, Greg Bertish sailed an 8-foot children’s Optimist dinghy around the Cape of Storms. He crossed False Bay, rounded Cape Point and headed for Langebaan Lagoon on the West Coast. His 200km journey matched the 200 days he had spent in hospital at age 30, fighting a life-threatening heart infection caused by a tropical bacterium.
He authored the children’s book The Little Optimist, a heart-warming tale about a little boat with a big heart.
The Real Deal
It was during his time in hospital that Greg became inspired to help sick and needy children. In the bed next to him was a small baby who had undergone multiple heart surgeries, and Greg knew then that his purpose was to give sick children hope and inspire them.
When you meet Greg, you can’t help but be inspired by him, and want to get involved with his cause. He carries an infectious optimism with him wherever he goes and, most importantly, he is the real deal – genuinely motivated to help others. Greg hopes this journey and his children’s book will help teach kids that being small, sick, disadvantaged or different is okay, and prove that they too can survive and thrive. His story inspires kids and the world to believe in themselves, get better, be better and follow their passions and dreams.
Greg is a big-wave surfer, South African National champion lifesaver and stand-up paddle boarder. He is an ambassador for The Children’s Hospital Trust and the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), and the founder of the Shark Spotter programme. He has helped raise more than R3 million for these organisations to date. Most impressively, he has achieved all of this as a multiple-heart-surgery survivor and patient.
Fund raising for good
In 2016 Greg raised R300 000 towards a new Intensive Care Unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and in 2017 raised R1 million to paint the hospital. Particularly relevant to the boating community is Greg’s support of the NSRI, an organisation close to the hearts of sea-goers in SA.
Greg explains: ‘An optimist is a person who engages in positive thinking or looks on the bright side of things. Optimism is the outlook that good things will happen, even if the situation may not appear totally positive at that moment. An Optimist is a small (8ft x 3.5ft), single-handed sailing dinghy intended for use by children up to the age of 15. The ‘Oppie’ is known as a child’s sailing dinghy – certainly not designed for sailing in the open ocean.
The Oppie – the Inspiration
‘I wanted to use this children’s sailing dinghy as a metaphor and a vehicle to connect with kids, to promote positive thinking and belief, and to create a passion and purpose to overcome obstacles in life. Using my life-changing experiences and adventures and with the backing of my platinum sponsor Two Oceans Marine Manufacturing and gold sponsors Ullman Sails and inspire these kids to survive and thrive. I spent nearly 200 days in hospital (almost 100 days in 2007 alone.) During this time I was sick, misdiagnosed, operated on, had IV drips 24/7, and at stages was offered no hope or cure. I used visualisation, optimism and my passion for the ocean and life to overcome, survive and get out of hospital. I was lucky; I had something to live for!’
To find out more about The Little Optimist Trust and how you can support, visit thelittleoptimist.org or email Greg Bertish at Cara@thelittleoptimist.org. All donations and sponsorships are Section 18A tax deductible.
By Kirsten Veenstra
PICTURES: Greg Beadle, Sean Todd, Amy McCliver, Matt Ross, Grant Schultz