“No person was ever honoured for what he received. Honour has been the reward for what they gave.” 
Calvin Coolidge, 30th U.S. President

In the spirit of honouring good deeds and great hearts, the Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) hosted its annual awards gala in Durban North on Friday, 26 October 2012.

The CATHSSETA Spirit of Comrades Awards banquet celebrates outstanding individuals for their awesome qualities of dedication, selflessness, perseverance and Ubuntu, coupled with their passion for ‘The Ultimate Human Race’.

Being an ongoing feature of the CMA since 1995, the three worthy awardees were presented with a striking one-ounce, 24 carat gold medallion, courtesy of CATHSSETA (Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality & Sports Sector Education & Training Authority).

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 awards criteria place special emphasis 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, exhibit the noble qualities that are associated with ‘The Ultimate Human Race’.

Proving that dynamite does indeed come in small packages, the first CATHSSETASpirit of Comrades recipient was Frankie Cawdry. Being a member of the Chiltern Athletics Club, Frankie has run ‘The Ultimate Human Race’ eleven times and earned herself 1 Bill Rowan and 10 Bronze medals.

Through her involvement with the Comrades Marathon and a life of running, Frankie has showcased herself as an exemplary runner and committed volunteer to the Comrades Marathon’s Refreshment Station portfolio.

Frankie has been described as a small lady with a huge heart, not just in running but in all facets of life. Being a single mom to three children for the most part, life has not always been easy for her but she has persevered, displaying the same courage and determination seen in her Comrades runs.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck in June 2009 just before the 84th Comrades Marathon, effectively bringing Frankie’s life to a standstill. The feisty runner was hit by a car on the M13 and landed in a coma with untold injuries.

Some of the procedures to save her life entailed a craniotomy to stop the bleeding on the brain, extensive suturing of wounds, tracheotomy to allow free breathing and major maxis facial surgery with about two dozen screws to hold her facial bones together.

She is still suffering the effects of memory loss and having implants, jaw operations and undergoing rehab. But despite these setbacks, she has huge determination and an undying drive to make the most of her life which is probably what saw her completing her 2012 Comrades after this most trying chapter of her life. All things considered, Frankie’s drive to survive is inspiring and definitely worthy of the Spirit of Comrades Award.

It’s about listening to your heart as well as others footsteps! As 32 year old Nongoma runner, Mandla Zwane has proven, being visually impaired is no barrier to running the greatest footrace on the planet; for this is the race that rules his heart.

He has always had a love for the Comrades Marathon and when he’s running it, he just focuses on the sound of other Comrades runners’ footsteps to follow the route, complete his race and receive his medal. Yes, it’s that simple for uBaba Mangethe – the powerful Mandla Zwane as his name suggests.

The inspirational Mandla has completed ‘The Ultimate Human Race’ 6 times without the help of a runner guide or any other assistance. He holds 1 Bronze and 5 Bill Rowan medals to his name, with a personal best of 07:52:58.

Mandla’s maverick nature has certainly captured the imagination of many people, mostly Comrades runners, who are in awe of the way he tackles the race and his ‘don’t pity me’ attitude.

Living in Nzondwane, a very rural area in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mandla survives on a disability grant. As for his training, he says he is used to running alone in the wide open spaces of the countryside. “Everyone is my friend”, beams Mandla, “so wherever my training takes me, I come into contact with people I know and am happy”.

Mandla enjoys chatting, sharing ideas and talking about the Comrades Marathon with people. He has been following the Comrades Marathon ever since he was a little boy and while completing his schooling at Arthur Blaxall School in Pietermaritzburg, he would join the spectators alongside the road and cheer the Comrades runners, wishing to be a part of the glorious event one day.

Circumstances prevented Mandla from realizing his ambition of being a psychologist but he says, “I am happy with my life because you may never have everything in life but you must be satisfied with what you have achieved”. Wise words indeed from the worthy second CATHSSETA Spirit of Comrades recipient!

The final recipient in line for the Spirit of Comrades accolade was CMA Board and Race Organising Committee (ROC) member, Jeff Minnaar for displaying everything that the esteemed Spirit of Comrades Awards is about. Besides his amazing 40 years of dedicated service to the CMA, Jeff has proven that where there’s a will, there is always a way!

Barely 4 months before the race, Jeff was admitted to hospital for a Cat Scan, where he went into a coma only to later discover that he had a diseased intestine which had burst, causing acute Septicaemia. This in turn had caused his kidneys and liver to start shutting down, forcing the doctors to keep him in an induced coma for a total of 6 days which saw him undergoing 7 operations.

Jeff had to be placed on a ventilator and a dialysis machine, following which he had to undergo another operation. Shockingly, doctors gave him a 10 to 20% chance of survival.

The severity of his case necessitated him remaining in ICU for 3 weeks and Hi-Care for 10 days, during which time he lost 20kg. This saw Jeff in a state of near complete muscle deterioration and a full rehabilitation process was implemented to enable him to walk again, albeit in a walker.

Jeff had to have an ileostomy done and will still undergo other operations to put things right. Through the pain and trying times that Jeff has endured, one thing has stood out about the calibre of his character. He strongly epitomises the values of every Spirit of Comrades awardee.

Add to the above, the fact that this dedicated Finish Venue Portfolio Convener continued to organise the Comrades Finish from his hospital bed and despite his weakened state, worked on the finish venue build-up and availed himself on Race Day.

Jeff also conquered ‘The Ultimate Human Race’ back in 1978, when he ran for Collegians Harriers Running Club, making him totally deserving of the esteemed CATHSSETA Spirit of Comrades accolade!

Another feature of the Spirit of Comrades celebratory night is the awarding of the ‘CMA Journalist of the Year Award’. This is a sincere acknowledgement and appreciation of the important and enduring work of the media and rewards the journalist who has shown a year-long interest in the Comrades Marathon and in that spirit, has generated the most coverage for ‘The Ultimate Human Race’.

That journalist, who has done more than his fair share of Comrades reporting is Die 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 proved to be the most prolific messenger of Comrades Marathon news.

As a token of gratitude for his Comrades passion and extensive coverage, he was awarded the ‘CMA Journalist of the Year’ accolade.

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