Pietermaritzburg’s rising middle-distance runner Zola Sokhela, who is now based in the USA, has won a big award abroad in a short space of time in a foreign country.
The talented Sokhela moved to California in January after matriculating at Michaelhouse and is studying political science at Santa Barbara’s Westmont College.
To say the talented middle-distance runner has hit the ground running in the USA would really be an understatement.
On Tuesday, the 19-year-old from Sweetwaters was crowned the 2021 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Men’s Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year.
NAIA is a college athletics association for small colleges and universities in North America and has at least 249 members.
The teenager has won a number of races from different distances that include 400 m to 1 500 m since his arrival at Westmont.
According to the College, Sokhela led its men’s track and field to the highest placing in the programme’s history, position four, after winning national titles in both 800 m and 1 500 m at the NAIA Outdoor National Championships.
“Winning this award is something I did not expect. Even with my performance at nationals, this is still very surprising,” said Sokhela according to the college’s website.
“This award is not just for me. This is for my coach, training partners, team, and everyone who supports me. There is a lot more to come.”
Before he left for the USA, Sokhela was under the tutelage of respected running and two-time Comrades Marathon winning coach Xolani Mabhida.
Mabhida said he was not really surprised with Sokhela success abroad as he has always been a great talent, but the coach is just happy that he is being honoured.
“To be honest, I think he has arrived in a country where people are going to notice his achievements because even here in KwaZulu-Natal, he was doing pretty much the same thing,” said Mabhida.
“This boy won 400 m, 800 m and 1 500 m races a space of two days in a single provincial championships event, but no one noticed that in the country.
“Also at the national level, he won 800 m and 1 500 m, something that is not usual, and still he was not noticed. I’m very happy he is being honoured in America.”
Last year, The in Ameri Witness reported that Sokhela was the only KZN athlete who was selected for the South African World Athletics U20 Championships preparation squad.
The World U20 Champs are scheduled to take place in Kenya next year from August 17.