Comrades Marathon’s first female winner laid to rest

2020-02-12 06:05
The late Betty Cavanagh at the opening of the Comrades Marathon Museum in 2016.PHOTO: supplied

The late Betty Cavanagh at the opening of the Comrades Marathon Museum in 2016.PHOTO: supplied

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THE Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) was saddened by news of the death of Betty Cavanagh (89).

Cavanagh is revered as the first official female winner of the Comrades Marathon, when it opened up to participation of both women and people of all races in 1975.

Her funeral service was held last Saturday, February 1 at the St Vincent Catholic Church in Pelham.

She was described as a humble and endearing person; a genuine trailblazer who inspired women and paved the way for our current female ultrarunning champions.

Cavanagh successfully completed six Comrades Marathons, as well as having run four races unofficially — between 1970 and 1973. Her official personal best was achieved in 1978 in a time of nine hours and 53 minutes.

Well regarded in the world of athletics, Cavanagh inspired many women to take up running and participate in The Ultimate Human Race. Together with her husband, Tony, they initiated long-distance training sessions, motivated other athletes and were part of a growing ultra-running community.

Cavanagh often accepted invitations as a VIP guest on Comrades race day and made herself available to be part of CMA events whenever possible. Her most notable recent public appearance was the opening of the revamped Comrades Marathon Museum in 2016, when she donated her 1975 Comrades Winners Jacket to the museum.

Cavanagh’s humble but illuminating presence will be greatly missed by Comrades officials and volunteers alike.

CMA chairperson Cheryl Winn said: “As the official winner of the 1975 Comrades Marathon, Betty Cavanagh’s name was the first to be engraved on the coveted Comrades Marathon Bowl. She and her fellow female pioneers such as Lettie van Zyl, Mavis Hutchinson and even others before them, such as Francis Hayward (1923) and Geraldine Watson (1931/2) were the inspiration.

“What I also immensely admire about Betty is the significant contribution that she and her husband, Tony, made to the sport of athletics in general, and in particular to ultramarathon running in KZN. They will always both be fondly remembered for so generously putting back into the sport they loved.”

Angie Narayanan of The Community Chest said: “Community Chest extends their deepest and sincere condolences to the family of Betty Cavanagh. We especially salute Betty for inspiring women to run Comrades Marathon. Today thousands of women have taken on the challenge to not only run the Comrades Marathon but to run for charity ...”

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