Comrades legend inspires unique charity drive

2011-04-16 00:00

THE 1931 Comrades winner, Phil Masterton-Smith, will provide the inspiration for perhaps the greatest charity drive in the 86 years of race.

Running in the colours of Natal Carbineers, Masterton-Smith broke the tape in seven hours, 16 minutes and 30 seconds on the down-run to become the youngest winner, aged 19, in the history of the race.

Two years later he was in Cape Town, but couldn’t afford to take the train to the City of Choice, so he cycled the 1 730 km to the start of the 1933 down run.

Amazingly, he finished 10th, just failing to break eight hours by 10 seconds.

Masterton-Smith was killed while fighting alongside his military comrades in the west African desert in 1942.

This year, as part of a drive to raise funds for the Amabeadi– beadi charity drive for Comrades, five endurance runners will replicate Masterton-Smith’s feat by cycling from Cape Town to Durban and then do the up-run Comrades Marathon to finish in Pietermaritzburg before the 12-hour cut-off.

The group, led by WP van Zyl, will benefit from modern roads and technology with their bikes, energy supplements and equipment, and so have planned to knock one day off Masterton-Smith’s journey time.

The quintet have been taking pledges from individuals and companies to reduce both the logistic costs and to boost the charity coffers in what has become known as the Unogwaja Challenge. In his running days, Masterton-Smith was affectionately known as Unogwaja (the hare).

Although initially a project under the Pink Drive for breast cancer, the initiative has captured the imagination of charities and Comrades sponsors, who have combined to give greater momentum to the campaign.

“The Unogwaja story has inspired and attracted so many people that it gains momentum every day and we simply had to share it” said Nolene Katschan, the Pink Drive co-ordinator. “This year all funds raised will be shared between the five charities.”

Toyota, the Comrades’ car sponsor, is one of a list of companies who have donated services, goods and financial support to the project.

In announcing the 2011 Toyota Win-A-Car SMS competition, Leo Koch, manager of corporate communication, said, “We are in Comrades for the long run. There is a spirit in road running that we identify with …”

Toyota will be providing over 16 vehicles for the race, including the lead cars, which have the lowest carbon emissions in the country — a fact that will not be lost on the lead runners who have to run in their wake.

The SMS competition opens on May 1 and runs through to 3 pm on race day with the winner selected after the 12-hour cut-off at 5.30 pm.

In 2010, the charity projects raised R1,4 million — a figure the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) expects to significantly exceed this year.

The priority seeding campaign has already raised over R303 000 from the 26 runners who have met the minimum R5 000 sponsorship requirement.

“The interest in the 2011 Comrades has been phenomenal,” enthused CMA chairperson Peter Proctor.

“There are still a number of qualifiers left and we already have over 11 000 of the 19 617 registered entrants who have qualified to make the starting line on May 29. This number will increase in the remaining weeks.”

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