Siya Mqambeli, one of three South Africans sponsored for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run in the Virgin Money London Marathon, finished the race in 36th position overall at the weekend.
Overcoming financial constraints and the impacts of recent crime, the three undertook their first-ever trip overseas and excelled in their opportunity to participate in a high-profile international marathon abroad. 32-year-old Mqambeli, of Dobsonville, Soweto, finished in a time of 2:29,27, becoming the first South African man to cross the line and achieving his dream of placing well in a high-profile international event. Compatriots Patrick Kanyane placed 176th in a time 2:41,36, despite having been injured only weeks before, and Joshua Mathebula placed 908th in a time of 3:04,17. The three were sponsored by Virgin Money South Africa in association with Adidas who supplied the team with running kits while Virgin Active sponsored two months’ training in a club of their choice.
The three runners were selected from running clubs around the country on the strength of their written motivations. All three said they dreamed of participating in an event such as the London Marathon, but did not have the resources to do so.
Mqambeli, who has been running for five years and is currently with the Discovery Athletic Club, said: “This is a lifetime opportunity every runner would like to be offered. It has always been my dream to run in the world’s biggest marathon like the London Marathon where I will get to experience running with the world’s best athletes. Being unemployed since January 2013 and struggling to find work, I decided to take my running seriously and getting an opportunity to run the London Marathon will be a unique opportunity for me to shine on an international level.”
Mqambeli’s financial constraints meant that he had entered few marathons in recently, with the exception of the Comrades Marathon. Adding to his challenges, his passport was stolen only two weeks before the trip to London, necessitating a scramble by Virgin Money to make the arrangements for replacement travel documents in time.
35-year-old Garenakgosi Patrick Kanyane of Randburg has been running for the past ten years, and has been a member of the Nedbank Running Club for the past three. He noted: “I have achieved many good times over the years with my best time for Comrades being 6hr 17 pos 28. I do most of training by running to work and back again. I live in Cosmos City with my wife. We have a little 2 year old boy. I volunteer to assist with running events a number of times during the year.” His finish in the event was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he was stabbed in the shoulder during a robbery the month before the race. A devastated Kanyane lost a great deal of blood and had to be hospitalised, forcing him to lose valuable training time. However, he rallied and managed to finish the race, although not in the 2:15 time he had been hoping to achieve.
39-year-old Joshua Mathebula of Honeydew, Johannesburg, has been running for seven years and is currently also a member of the Discovery Athletic Club. His motivation read: “I’ve been a very active runner since 2006. Then in October 2010 my wife passed away after a short illness leaving me with our 5 year old daughter. It was so hard for me to handle the situation, and I started doing slower times in 2011 and 2012 as I wasn’t doing proper training and doing less races. Now I’m back on training and have managed to deal with the past. I’ve never run any international event due to finances – making a living as a single parent I had to be very careful with my budget as I don’t have a backup.”
The world-famous marathon is a charity fundraiser that sees tens of thousands of entrants participating from around the world each year. This year’s event attracted over 36,000 athletes and was won by Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang in a course-record time of 2:04,29.
The three South African athletes were not only sponsored to participate in the race, they were also treated to sightseeing during what was a first trip abroad for all three. “We decided to embrace the essence of the event, and offer opportunities to those who might never have been able to participate otherwise,” explains Heidie Aitken, Brand Manager of Virgin Money South Africa. “We wanted to make sure that our runners have the opportunity to explore London, and we devised an all-inclusive experience so as to ensure that it’s an experience they’ll never forget. The change that can come about as a result of an event like this is momentous,” she says.