Boxer: Superstore sponsor offers KZN runners a stable home

2011-03-31 00:00

FROM small beginnings the Boxer Superstores club have emerged to be one of the foremost clubs in the province and an eminent mark on road running nationally.

Their athletic involvement began in Zululand with a handful of runners who approached the local supermarket company for sponsorship for training kit. The pride with which the runners wore their kit, together with the community’s identification with the group, soon spurred others on to the road.

It did not take long before the natural progression led marketing director Andrew Mills to the doors of KwaZulu-Natal Athletics to register a club, and from there it has been an upward spiral.

Unlike other corporates, there has been no short-term “splash and dash with cash” to recruit the local hot-shot purely on the basis of potential exposure.

Progression into the professional world has been measured, commencing with incentives and graduating to monthly retainers, which are now awarded to only 14 of the 35 elite athletes.

Although often perceived as a club of elite runners, these athletes are like the tip of an iceberg with over two-thirds of the club’s membership content to compete under the radar on a more social level.

The leading Boxer athletes may not benefit from the largest monthly retainers, but there is a stability and commitment from both the club and the athletes that sets this club apart from the other corporates.

Mills and club manager Rhyn Swanepoel have identified key inter-related opportunities and objectives for the club, commencing with the desire to grow the art of running in the rural base.

This is the foundation for a desire to grow the awareness of all athletic disciplines both provincially and nationally.

An important catalyst to achieving that level of awareness is providing the support that enables their leading provincial athletes to compete regularly against top athletes from other corporates at the country’s top events and championships.

In a rare understanding of the complexities of professionalised road running, Boxer look to assist their top athletes with advice on managing their running, and it is this more holistic approach that creates the stability within the club.

Annual kit-swapping is a trend among many top clubs as runners look for greener pastures, or corporates re-evaluate their perception of runners’ worth.

Many of Boxer’s elite athletes have taken time out from competition due to injury or personal circumstances, but they remain with the club and return to the fray when ready.

It’s Boxer’s holistic approach and the attraction of “belonging” that provides a home to South Africa’s all-time fourth fastest marathoner, Tanith Maxwell, who over the past six years has forsaken the typical South African diet of weekly races, easy pickings and obsession with Comrades and Two Oceans, for the more lonely, less recognised and less financially viable [at least in SA] road of international marathons and national representation.

Her investment began in 2005 after a 2:58 marathon, but has matured to a 2:32 in Berlin last year with a potential Olympic selecting performance under 2:30 on the cards for the London Marathon next month.

While her former corporate sponsor constantly pressured her for local competition, pushed her towards the ultras and offered bigger finance to run in corporate colours than the green and gold of her country, she has found an empathy and assistance in Boxer that has further fuelled her dreams and progress.

It’s a path that young Thobane Chagwa is only beginning to tread. This youngster may be seen on the local track and road circuit, but his true talent is yet to mature.

Last year he ranked as the top South African junior at 10 km, half-marathon and cross-country. He is one of a disproportionately few athletes from KZN, but benefits from the guidance and base provided in the club.

Often the whole is greater than the individual, which has often proved the case for Danielle Adlam, Janine Carey, Grace de Oliveira, Maya Lawrie and the other leading ladies, who, although topping podiums locally, have with Boxer assistance taken the province to team honours at national championships.

While Jabulani Mabaso’s 11th place in the 2007 Comrades is the highest by a Boxer athlete, the club’s support at age group level has enabled the mature athletes such as Lawrie, husband and wife Eloi and Grace de Oliveira, Nicholas Dlamini and Jerimiah Ngwenya to continue their running dreams locally and nationally.

The Boxer club have established themselves in the middle ground. They have the home and the bond of the traditional club with a level of funding that allows them to mix it with the corporates.

But it’s not all about the club. In more recent years Boxer Superstores have delved into race and provincial sponsorship to assist the sport as a whole.

A three-year sponsorship of the Stella club race, combined with an increasing involvement in the publication of the KZN handbook and fixture list, may have extended the company’s exposure, but also provided a lifeline in a province whose financial situation has been less than healthy.

A strong belief that the true source of future talent lies in rural areas and the strength developed in off-road running has resulted in the recent boost to Boxer’s sponsorship of KZN Cross-country.

There may not be the glitz and noise that enshrouds other corporates when making a contribution, but over the few years since they formally established the club, Boxer Superstores have increased the impact on the sport as a whole, and importantly, their runners still wear their kit with pride and have an identity within the community.

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