The Comrades Marathon Association held its annual awards ceremony in Durban on Friday 5 October, at which it presented the Harmony Spirit of Comrades Awards to three deserving recipients.

Harmony Spirit of Comrades Awards are presented annually to a maximum of three individuals who are “esteemed to embody the Spirit of the Comrades Marathon”. Previously known as Platinum Medal Awards, they have been presented annually since 1995 at the discretion of the CMA Board of Trustees on the basis of nominations received from CMA members, Comrades Marathon runners and the general public.

The criteria for the awards is deliberately wide enough to accommodate Comrades Marathon winners, legends, volunteers and otherwise ordinary heroes 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 race.

The first Spirit of Comrades Award for 2007 was presented to Val Wilkinson, one of the invaluable people behind the scenes who enable others to participate.

Val has been associated with road running since the formation of Rocky Road Runners in 1976 and her contribution has been in the form of the unselfish support of runners, initially at club level, then provincial and eventually at a national level. As a club administrator and supporter, Val has “seconded” literally hundreds of runners in their Comrades training over the years, especially along the legendary Rockies “long runs” which were particularly popular during the 80’s and 90’s.

Val has also been associated with the Rockies Comrades panel meetings since their inception in 1979, indirectly benefiting thousands of aspiring Comrades runners. Although not in the limelight as a presenter, Val works behind the scenes to co-ordinate the arrangements that enable invaluable and informative presentations by Don Oliver, Denis Tabakin and other expert guests. Together with husband Richard, Val initiated the Rockies 5km Time Trial in 1984, which is conveniently situated at Zoo Lake. Val happily greets them at the finish thereof to this day.

For the past 20 years Val has been actively involved as a national road running referee, and in an often a thankless position has earned the respect of runners and administrators alike, as well as a reputation for fairness, knowledge of the rules and the impartial application thereof. It is in this capacity that she has made a particular contribution to Comrades, having refereed for at least the past 12 races, thus ensuring a fair competition.

The second Spirit of Comrades Award for 2007 was presented to Paul Selby. A veteran of 23 Comrades Marathons, Paul is renowned in South African ultra distance running circles for his establishment 17 years ago of the 1000km Challenge, a programme and competition which encourages athletes to complete a minimum of 1000km in races during a 12 month period culminating with the Comrades Marathon each year. (Paul has personally completed 43,000km in races since the establishment of the 1000km Challenge.)

An unofficial but true Comrades ambassador, Paul has extensively promoted the Comrades Marathon both nationally and internationally. Over the years he has personally inspired, motivated and encouraged hundreds of local athletes to take up the challenge, while his passionate word-of-mouth marketing at the numerous overseas races he attends annually has promoted international awareness and participation in Comrades.

Paul is also well known for his charitable challenges, the most memorable being his back-to-back Comrades in 1999, in which he started in Durban at 7pm on the eve of the race, running through the night to arrive in Pietermaritzburg in time for the start of the race, which he then completed, in the course of which raising over R200,000 for Cancer Association. He has also completed several back-to-back London Marathons to raise funds for charity, as well as personally sponsoring prizes and medals for several township and underprivileged races.

His forte however is a penchant for picking up 'no-hopers' along the route and coaxing them through to the finish of a race. To this extent the only Comrades Marathon he has failed to finish in 24 years was in 1996 in which he failed to meet the Drummond cut-off while endeavouring to assist a fellow club member.

That a man should sacrifice his own race in order to assist a fellow Comrades runner is a tribute to his character and sense of giving, which exemplifies the spirit of camaraderie and selflessness within Paul Selby.

The final Spirit of Comrades Award was presented to Richard Whitehead, a double amputee who completed the 2007 Comrades Marathon.

Richard whose legs end just above the knee completed the 89,3km race on steel prosthetic legs in a time just under 10hours, thus earning a bronze medal and beating over 60% of the field.

Having only taken up running 3 years ago, Richard had already completed two New York Marathons, the London Marathon and Two Oceans, as well as having represented Great Britain at cricket, swimming and the paralympic equivalent of ice hockey (called sledge hockey), but the Comrades Marathon was his biggest challenge to date.

Richard subscribes to the motto “life without limitations” and bears a tattoo on his right arm which reads – 'Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man.'

As the first double amputee to even attempt the Comrades Marathon Richard's finish ranks as one of the most incredible feats in the history of the race, an act of true courage and inspiration. He became the first foreign recipient of a Spirit of Comrades Award.

Comrades marathon media release 2007/19 Statement Released on Friday, 5 October 2007.

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