Durban – The old adage that action speaks louder than words will ring true yet again when KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC, Sibongiseni Dhlomo, runs the Comrades Marathon next month.
Dhlomo’s participation in the gruelling ultra-marathon, it is hoped, will encourage people to ditch unhealthy lifestyles adopted by a significant portion of the South African population.
The 2011 Comrades Marathon will be run on Sunday, 29 May, from Durban to Pietermaritzburg and Dhlomo will become the first sitting member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature to enter the marathon.
The marathon started in 1921 and is the oldest and longest race, after being completed 85 times. Participants have 11 hours to complete 90km between Durban and Pietermaritzburg and this route is alternated every year.
Last month, Dhlomo completed the qualifying Midmar Marathon in four hours and 55 minutes, and that is impressive for a person who only took up running last year.
The MEC enlisted Sipho Ngxongo as his personal trainer and in no time, Dhlomo completed two 10km races followed by a 15km.
Ngxongo has been impressed with the determination displayed by the MEC. “I was extremely humbled when he enrolled into my running-development club Phumanathi Athletics. We immediately started training and he began to show a lot of promise. So much so that he has qualified to run the greatest race of all time-the Comrades Marathon,” says Ngxongo.
The health department launched the Healthy Lifestyle Initiative in early April 2011 with the intention of fighting ill health by eating nutritious food and increasing physical activity.
“I call upon all South Africans to take up running or any other physical activity which has positive spin-offs. For me, running is the easiest sport. You just put on a pair of running shoes and you’re off,” says Dhlomo.
He hopes that through his participation he will encourage parliamentarians, leaders of business and various leaders in many sectors to join him in his campaign to raise awareness about the ills of physical inactivity in society.
“I hope that in the near future business leaders will provide space and necessary tools for workers to engage in physical activity,” he explains. “This will reduce the many hours lost to absenteeism and large amounts paid to medical care.”
According to Dhlomo, evidence has shown that children who have been active in a sporting code will spend less time doing “unsavoury things” such as using drug or drinking alcohol.
“I have taken on the challenge to show everyone that anything is possible. I want everyone to aspire to run the Comrades at some stage in their lives. We as South Africans need to take our health and well-being into our own hands and start making a change within ourselves and our children,” the MEC says.
“Contributing towards creating an awareness of the dangers of non-communicable diseases and ways of reducing deaths and diseases by improving diseases and increasing levels of physical activity, is a noble contribution that I have decided to make in my own small way,” he says.
“Increasing physical activity is a societal, not just an individual problem. Therefore it demands everyone’s contribution.”
This year 19 617 people will run the Comrades Marathon and there has been an increase in the number of foreigners competing. The largest participating countries include; United Kingdom with 253 runners, the USA with 179, Australia with 152 and Brazil with 115 runners.
Dhlomo acknowledged the enthusiasm and commitment from people from overseas who come in their numbers to participate.
“The Russians and Americans are coming to our country just to take part in the Comrades Marathon. They spend a great deal of money flying over here, on accommodation and meals. For me and other South Africans, entering the Comrades is very cheap compared to what it costs our foreign counterparts. I admire all who take part and this race is definitely one of the greatest as even foreigners come in their numbers, despite all costs, to take part,” Dhlomo says.
The ‘up-run’ has also attracted 4882 novices. Comrades Marathon spokesperson Vishal Ramphal says there are seminars throughout the country to enlighten them about the do’s and don’ts of the event.
Ramphal adds that, it is also the first time in the history of the Comrades Marathon that an elite team of Ethiopian runners have entered and will pose a formidable threat to both local runners and defending champion, Stephen Muzhingi.
The top 10 finishers in both the men’s and women’s competitions in the 2010 Comrades Marathon will line up again this year.
Ramphal said the women’s race will once again see the dominant Nurgalieva twins Elena and Olesya battle it out for top position. In the 2006 ‘up- run’, Elena Nurgalieva broke the record with a brilliant 6:09:24 finish.
They will be joined by Marina Myshlyanova, Kami Semick, Farwa Mentoor, Lizzy Hawker, Tatyana Zhirkova; Lindsay van Aswegen and Adinda Kurger.
Muzhingi will have a challenging time holding onto his title with the likes of Jaroslaw Janicki, Ludwick Mamabolo, Lucas Nonyana, Oleg Kharitonov and Bongmusa Mthembui all displaying an insatiable hunger for glory.
“It is exciting to see that the 2011 race attracted 19617 entrants. This and the Comrades Marathon ability to attract runners from all walks of life firmly attest to its domination of the SA road running calendar,” explains Peter Proctor, Chairperson of the Comrades Marathon.
With just a few weeks left, the MEC is still very determined, despite a very demanding work schedule.
“The MEC is on track and training is going very well. He has his coaches and athletic club that is guiding him along. He is focussed on achieving this goal to draw attention to adopting a better lifestyle”, explains Chris Maxon, Dhlomo’s spokesperson.
“The MEC’s participation in this race is a testament that anyone can do this and that anything is possible. This is means a great deal to have him running the Comrades Marathon and we wish him all the best,” says Ramphal. – Kemantha Govender, BuaNews