Because it’s Mandela Day: A heartwarming story about giving back

2013-07-18 18:17

Marathon runner Muzayifani Myeni is seriously considering trading his running boots for a farmer’s hat in an attempt to develop young children into the next Samuel Tshabalala, the first black Comrades Marathon winner, in 1989.

Ever since Standard 3 (Grade 5) when his teacher unleashed the runner in him, Myeni has been “living and eating” running.

“I will never forget that teacher’s name. It was Ma’am Simelane. She used to make us run long distances. Most children hated it, but that is where I discovered my talent,” said Myeni.

In the last six years, he has successfully participated in a number of prominent races as a professional runner, including the gruelling Comrades Marathon and the Soweto and Nongoma races. However, he believes he would have been a better runner had he been properly trained.

That is why he has decided to retire to get into vegetable farming. Through farming and owning his own plot, he hopes to secure enough financial security to fund children showing potential in running.

He has been promised a plot but is still struggling to put together the co-op that will run it.

Myeni is one of three runners from the Mtubatuba area, in the north of KwaZulu-Natal, who have started training schoolchildren as a way of giving back to their communities.

Myeni works with schools from his rural community of Mfekayi, while the other men work in the communities where they are based.

“I currently have about 200 children under me. I approach schools and I ask teachers to make their children available for training. I work with both boys and girls. I mostly target children at primary school level. But I do have children in high school training with me,” said Myeni.

He starts his runners on 100 metre races and steadily builds on that by adding kilometres.

“I’m very happy with the results. I have three boys, in particular, who are doing well and are representing their schools provincially at national races,” adds Myeni.

However, Myeni struggles to get some of the children to races because of a lack of money.

“These children come from impoverished homes and going somewhere to compete in a race is a big issue. Most of the time, parents simply don’t have money for transport.

“Many times, I’m forced to beg councillors to collect the money for us to go on trips or else I have to loan it from someone myself and pay it later,” he said.

Myeni believes by working the soil during the day and training the children later, he will ensure that he has money to buy kombis to get the children where they need to go.

He is also in the process of negotiating funding with local food stores in the area for them to partner on an annual 7km race for the children.

While this will add to their training, Myeni hopes it serves as an incentive so that “they see that running also has rewards, and not just soccer (can be a career)”.

“I often wonder how far I could have gone had someone taken me under their wing and taken the time to invest in my future,” he adds.

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