OLDEST SURVIVING COMRADES WINNER RUNS THE HOPE CHALLENGE

Runners, young and old celebrated the camaraderie and joy of 100 years of The Ultimate Human Race through their participation in the Comrades Centenary Hope Challenge last month.

Traditional Comrades Marathon runners, their spouses, parents, children and even their pets took to the streets and brought the magic of the world’s biggest, oldest and most famous ultramarathon to life in their neighbourhoods, towns, cities and countries across the world.

The oldest surviving Comrades Marathon Winner also did his part to keep the Comrades dream alive. 88year old Bernard Gomersall, a UK national who now resides in the USA, was joined by his family and friends on Sunday, 13 June, and together charted their own route on the Crescent Trail along the Potomac River in Washington DC, in the USA.

Gomersall became one of the few international runners to win The Ultimate Human Race, after breaking the tape in the 1965 Comrades Marathon in a time of 5:51:09.

On winning the race back then, he said, “My reaction to the 1965 Comrades Marathon win was two-fold – surprise and delight. Surprise that I had been lucky enough to win the greatest race in the world! Especially when you consider that only 18 months before that, I had won my first ever race over any distance. So I did not have a lot of experience at winning. I must also admit that the unexpected rain and cool conditions were on my side.”

Gomersall added, “The delight was that I had not let anybody down. All the many people in the UK who had supported me were not disappointed. Additionally, my family had delightedly received the reward for all their sacrifices.”

The CMA was honoured with a visit to the 2015 Comrades Marathon by Gomersall, 50 years after his win. On his visit, he says, “What an amazing trip I had back to South Africa, half a century after winning The Ultimate Human Race. I must admit that the visit was emotionally charged with surprise, delight but also tinged with a feeling of sorrow. My surprise was that, after all those years, as to who had heard of me and who still remembered me. I thought my visit would have been very quiet but I found out that old winners of the Comrades were and still are in demand as I received a number of invitations to supporting events that year.”

“The delight was that I was returning to the country and event that brought me my greatest success and introduced me to many new friends. It also allowed me to renew old friendships and touch base with so many dear people.”

“Last but not least, the sorrow was that my dear wife, Ruth, of 55 years was not at my side as she had passed away in 2011. But she was there in spirit.”

Gomersall added, “Life has since changed for me. After living in England for 81 years, I decided with the help of my daughter to emigrate and I now live in the USA near Washington DC. I have been wearing the Stars and Stripes on my shirt but I have the Union Jack on my heart. It was a new experience to attend the Comrades as an Elder but it’s something that I will cherish forever.”

He concluded, “Being part of the Comrades Centenary Hope Challenge was one way of keeping my bond with the Comrades Marathon alive. I ran with hope and it was a wonderful feeling.”