The ‘Gold Fields Spirit of Comrades Awards’ is an annual event, whereby a maximum of three individuals are rewarded for embodying the true ‘Spirit of the Comrades Marathon’. This has been an ongoing feature of the CMA since 1995. Recipients of the prestigious award are based on nominations received from CMA members, Comrades Marathon runners and the general public and are subject to the discretion of the CMA Board.
The criteria for the awards are far-reaching with special emphasis placed on Comrades Marathon winners, legends, volunteers and otherwise ordinary heroes and heroines, who through individual acts of sacrifice, service, courage or perseverance, either in a single race, or over a period of time, demonstrate the noble qualities associated with ‘The Ultimate Human Race’.
Among this year’s ‘Gold Fields Spirit of Comrades’ recipients was Anne Kouvarellis. This feisty, fun-loving 61-year old most certainly personifies the Comrades spirit. Anne hails from Gauteng’s Boksburg area, where she founded the Falcon Flyers Running Club, aimed specifically at training and enabling novices to complete the world’s greatest ultra-marathon. Now in its 12th year, the Falcon Flyers has an almost 40-strong membership.
Having completed 24 Comrades Marathons herself and with 20 bronze and 4 Vic Clapham medals to her name, Anne is no push-over. Being the captain and coach of the team, she personally trains new runners and always runs together with the novices each year, at the expense of her own race time. In response to hearing of her award, Anne says: ‘This is indeed humbling. I am sure there are others who are more deserving of this accolade!’ Now, that is definitely a clear manifestation of what we call; an embodiment of the essence of Comrades!
The second ‘golden’ recipient was 38 year-old Jaco Zevenster. A Mathematics teacher by profession, this kind man is also Deputy Principal at the David Brink Primary School in Rustenburg, and a member of the Rustenburg Marathon Club. But more than having what it takes to be a Comrades medalist, Jaco possesses the heart and soul of a true people’s person.
Being a fit and healthy 20-year old nearly two decades ago, he ran his first Comrades Marathon in 1992, going on to earn 2 bronze and 1 Vic Clapham. Had he reached the finish line of this years race in time, Jaco would have scored another Comrades medal but that was not to be.
In fact, he missed his Comrades 2010 medal by 1 minute and 2 seconds, after going to the rescue of fellow Comrades runner Joanni Opperman, who fell and broke her ankle at the start of the marathon. In deep gratitude to Jaco, Joanni says: ‘After breaking my ankle, I couldn’t get up and thousands of athletes were still running past me. Jaco stopped and stood by me and warned other runners who could have tripped over me or worse still, trampled me.’ She adds: ‘I believe Jaco could have completed his 5th Comrades in time, had he not stopped to help me!’
Jaco says: ‘I feel honoured and overwhelmed by this award. The 2010 race was another wonderful Comrades experience and even though I wasn’t able to win a medal, I was privileged to have the support and encouragement of my wife and son in the final leg of the marathon’. For his humility, helpfulness and living out the genuine Comrades spirit, Jaco took home the gold!
The final recipient was the revered, reliable and respected 53-year old Vlam Pieterse, a Hartebeestpoort resident who has been described as the absolute archetype of the ‘Spirit of Comrades’. He has been credited with having an exemplary pacing ability, having helped many to fulfill their dream of achieving a Comrades finish. Vlam has also been upheld as an integral player in South Africa’s and the Comrades’ rich historical tapestry, having first begun pace-setting at the ultra-marathon 12 years ago.
Many Comrades enthusiasts will remember this living legend by the weather balloon he used as a beacon for runners to find him along the route. He also leads the 12-hour bus at Comrades, which is the oldest, biggest and by far, the most famous of all the buses. Being witness to the size and spirit of the 12-hour bus coming around the final bend of the Comrades finish has been described as nothing short of phenomenal and breath-taking.
Vlam is usually quite a focal point at many qualifying races as well. With 13 bronze and 8 Vic Clapham medals, Vlam is a notable Double Green Number holder. With his constant chants and camaraderie, he is said to ‘make Comrades seem like a breeze!’ On hearing the good news, he said: ‘I am overwhelmed. Now I will have to keep running the Comrades Marathon until I’m 60!’ For epitomizing the very nature of Comrades, this terrific team builder walked away with the third coveted golden medallion.
Another exciting facet of the glamorous evening was the granting of the distinguished Life Membership as well as the Honours Awards to two people who truly embody the ethos of volunteerism. The Comrades Life Membership Award is presented to a member who has made a commendable and discernible contribution and been of outstanding service to the CMA and The Ultimate Human Race. For his laudable conduct and more, Jeremy Taylor was chosen as the deserving recipient.
Now, Jeremy is no stranger to Comrades, having served the CMA for close on three decades. His history with Comrades goes back to Alex Road in 1982, where he helped with entries. He then went on to assist with packing medals and operating the time machines to back-up the Comrades computers. Since days gone by, Jeremy has assisted with route marking and helping in the Finish procedure, doing all sorts of tasks to ensure a success, including joining the A-team in setting up the Finish venue. Being the handy helper that he is, he has also played a Security role on race day and currently serves on the Finish Venue Sub-committee and continues to help with route-marking. A lover of the great outdoors, Jeremy has paddled the Dusi a number of times but has yet to take on the Comrades challenge!
The next praiseworthy title of Honours with Life Membership Award is presented in recognition of an immense contribution to the Comrades and particularly, for 10 years service on any one of the committees or 15 years CMA membership, with service in some capacity. The candidate who thoroughly earned this accolade was Dr Jeremy Boulter.
Jeremy has shown selfless dedication and commitment to the CMA for 31 years, having first assisted the Medical Tent in 1979 and being involved with Comrades ever since. He has been described as a truly worthy recipient of Honours Award.
Last but by no means least, the CMA is always mindful of the important role played by members of the media, who are especially passionate about the amazing race. One such individual, who has gone through leaps and bounds to help ingrain the Comrades in the South African psyche, is Beeld sports reporter Sarel van der Walt. Based on the number of articles reported by any journalist over the course of the year, and independently verified by Newsclip Media Monitoring, Sarel was by far, the biggest messenger of Comrades Marathon news. For his tireless input, he was presented with the inaugural award of “Top Journalist of the Year” and received a cash prize.