Mandela Marathon: a seed of hope

2014-03-20 00:00

LIKE the origins of the marathon, the Mandela Marathon carries with it a symbol of all things victorious, heroic and bold.

History teaches us that Pheidippides, a Greek soldier, delivered the momentous message Niki (victory), then collapsed and died 490 years before Jesus Christ was born. He took 40 000 steps to deliver this message in a space of under three hours. It was a message of enormous significance, as it planted the seed of hope for modern civilisation as we know it today.

With an army of 25 000 men and 600 triremes (warships), the mighty Persian army marched to the little town of Marathon in Greece to annex the Greek Empire. Heavily outnumbered and ill-resourced, Athenians and Spartans defended the Greek Empire to an unlikely success. With sheer guts and defensive military strategy, the Athenians showed the world that where there is will, there is a way. It was a typical David and Goliath story.

This victory at Marathon, according to Edward S. Creasy, a military historian, “is a critical epoch in the history of the two nations. It broke the spell of Persian invincibility, which had previously paralysed men’s minds. It secured for mankind the intellectual treasures of Athens, the growth of free institutions, the liberal enlightenment of the Western world and the gradual ascendancy for many ages of the great principles of European Civilization.”

The victory planted the seed of hope that against all odds, human society will one day be freed from conflict, wars, poverty, unemployment and suffering.

It is with this seed of hope in mind that humankind reinvented this legendary story during the first Olympic Games in the city of Athens, Greece, in 1896. Since then, the marathon movement has catapulted hope throughout the modern world and every city of note has its own unique marathon.

Nothing personifies the legend of the marathon more than the life and times of Nelson Mandela. Like Pheidippides, he travelled a “long walk to freedom” to bring the message of hope to South Africans and the citizens of the world alike. He broke the spell of the invincibility of apartheid and spent 27 years incarcerated on Robben Island, without flinching on his political convictions.

He rose from the ashes of prison to become the unlikely first president of the democratic South Africa in April 1994. He served only one term and left the presidency at the height of his popularity, a feat that is unheard of in Africa.

On December 5, 2013, after 95 years of unparalleled service, he left an eternal message of peace, goodwill and hope. His message of reconciliation, humility, universal love and duty to humankind is forever etched in history.

Indeed, the Mandela Marathon is the confluence of two rivers that run deep and wide. The Mandela Marathon seeks to propel humankind into the future of hope. It symbolises the triumph of the human spirit, against all odds as Pheidippides and Mandela have demonstrated through their unique contributions to humankind.

It starts at Manaye Hall, Imbali, where Mandela made his last speech as a free man on March 26, 1961, before going into exile on a political mission. The finish line is a full 42,2 km away at the Mandela Capture Site where he was arrested on August 5, 1962. Its defining character is the Struggle Hill along the historic route that evokes memories of many struggle heroes.

The vision of the Mandela Marathon is to be rated as one of the best grand slam marathons, inspiring runners from every corner of the globe. This marathon shall reignite hope where it has been lost, and shall send a message that the human spirit cannot be broken by capture, discrimination, war or anything by anyone. Every athlete, sponsor, supporter, official or volunteer of this marathon shall be the shepherd of the message of the “unbroken human spirit”.

The Mandela Marathon was launched by the custodians of the race on August 25, 2012, when 2 000 athletes from all walks of life took to the road, honouring the life of Mandela. The second chapter was held on August 26, 2013, with a growth of 175% and delivering 5 500 participants, making the Mandela Marathon the fastest growing marathon in South Africa.

The 2014 Mandela Marathon will be held on August 31, 2014, with 10 000 expected participants, including mountain bikers who will participate in the inaugural Mandela Day Mountain Biking. The Mandela Marathon is recognised by the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS) as an associate member.

• Sbu Khuzwayo is the municipal manager of the uMgungdlovu District Municipality. He writes in his private capacity.

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