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Comrades on crutches: Amputee runner's race of a lifetime

08 June, 02:31 PM

Sharlene Rood, News24

When an estimated 17 000 athletes line up outside the Pietermaritzburg City Hall for the Comrades Marathon at dawn on Sunday morning, one man would already have been on the route for five hours.

Amputee runner Xolani Luvuno is doing the gruelling 90km race on crutches, after refusing to give up on his dream when his running blade let him down.

When News24 met with Luvuno this week in Irene, outside Pretoria, he appeared both excited and nervous ahead of his maiden Comrades.

"I am ready. I just wish the race was today already," Luvuno said.

But he added: "I have a small fear...because it's a long route. I want to make sure I finish, that's what I fear."

Seeing Luvuno in his athletics gear, it's hard to imagine that just two years ago he was destitute, living under a bridge in Pretoria, addicted to alcohol and nyaope.

Luvuno, who grew up in rural Eastern Cape, was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2009 and his right leg was amputated. 

In 2016 Hein Venter, an Irene businessman, spotted Luvuno begging for money and decided to help. 

"He looked so incredibly vulnerable," he told News24.

Operation

With Venter's support, Luvuno not only turned his life around, but got introduced to running.

The amputee runner first made headlines in May 2017 when he was spotted running the 42.2km Wally Hayward Marathon wearing a prosthetic leg and crutches. In July 2017 he ran his first race with a brand-new sponsored running blade.

But because of a wound on his stump, he won't be able to make use of his blade during the Comrades and his normal prosthetic leg slows him down.

He will need an operation on his stump to alleviate the problem, but this can only happen after the Comrades.

"Xolani has been granted an extra five hours to complete the race," Venter explained. 

He added that as a T42 category amputee, Luvuno has a 30% disadvantage when compared to able-bodied athletes. 

"If you add another 30% to the cut-off of 12 hours, it brings you close to 17 hours. So we asked the organisers if they would allow us to start five hours earlier."

And although they agreed, Luvuno's participation won't be official.

"We're just grateful to have an opportunity to be on the route for the duration of the race," Venter said. 

Not a competition

"It's not a competition for me. I want to make sure I finish in time. It's all about the experience," Luvuno said.

"I want to make sure that at 05:30 when the big guys are starting, I'm close to the 40km mark. I know they will catch me on the way."

Luvuno, who says he squandered a lot of his time while living on the streets, has already set his sights on his next goal.

He hopes to take on the Ironman triathlon next and has his sights on the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

And then, of course, there is next year's Comrades Marathon.

"I want to finish them back-to-back," he said smiling.

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