“One of my prized possessions are three finishers medals from the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. I’m lucky now to be able to give back to the Comrades Marathon as an international volunteer ‘Brand Ambassador at Large’.
This year, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the race was cancelled but the ‘Spirit of Comrades’ is not forgotten. The Comrades spirit is international. I’m proud to say that Cheryl Winn, an American by birth, is the only person to have won the race who also now serves as Chairperson of the Comrades Marathon Association. In 2005 Cheryl and I had a chat and dreamed that it would be great, one day, to have 100 Americans and 1000 international runners at Comrades.
That year, there were almost 14,000 runners – 474 internationals including 43 Americans and 42 countries represented. In 2020, we had 27,500 runners registering for the race – 2354 internationals, 231 Americans and 88 countries. Our dream had come true. We now have Comrades Ambassadors from 25 countries around the world including Bruce ‘Digger’ Hargreaves, an Aussie, who is now a Brand Ambassador at Large like me.
The ‘Spirit of Comrades’ is not just about running; its very nature is also the reason why Nelson Mandela loved the Comrades Marathon. It reflected his life and ideals. Mandela said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in ways that little else does.”
“Although non-whites and women were not permitted to officially run Comrades until 1975 (the first race was in 1921) there is a long history of white runners giving their finisher’s medal to non-white runners. In 1975 Comrades took the decision and then successfully campaigned to the relevant authorities to open the race to all races and both genders – a direct challenge to apartheid (nearly two decades before its end).
In 1981 when the South African government incorporated Comrades into its 20th anniversary of apartheid (the then Republic Day), Bruce Fordyce wore a black arm band in protest and won the race; the first of nine wins. – Lessons from Mandela on Sports & Politics
On Sunday, June 4th I ran the ‘Race The Comrades Legends’ virtual race with a ‘legend’, Bernard Gomersall. In 1965, Bernard, a British national, became the first international to break a Comrades race record. He was only the second international to win the race. Bernard is a legend in an ultramarathon running, having won the historic London to Brighton 50 miler four consecutive times.
He is a young 88; I am an old 70. We started our 5km race at the Nelson Mandela statue in front of the South African embassy. Neither of us ever thought we would get another Comrades medal but such is the Comrades and the institution. Its legendary!”