Skillz on the Run


Former Banyana Banyana player and team manager Lydia Monyepao of Varsity Kudus completed her first Comrades last month in 10:14. She chats about how football helped her transition to the Big C, and running to raise funds for SOS Africa.

Given that it was her first go at Comrades, former soccer star Lydia Monyepao relied heavily on running friends for tips on how to run the race. She also attended the novice training programme seminars at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria, and ran several key events for her build-up, the Township Marathon, Pick n Pay Marathon, Old Mutual Om Die Dam 50km and Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon. Still, she says it was a hard run, especially in the latter kilometres of the race. “Comrades was tough but enjoyable, and running in a group or a bus made the first half easy. Then, as fatigue started taking its toll at about 35km to go, the spectators and their cheers along the route gave me the oomph to keep on,” she says. “The last 11km were the longest, however, and each kilometre looked longer than normal!”


Lydia’s involvement in soccer began at school when she was invited to play in a five-a-side match and her teacher spotted her undeniable talent. She took the sport more seriously while studying for her B.Com at WITS University, and in 1998 she was called up to the national team for the first time for matches against Kenya and Egypt. “I remember not making the starting eleven back then, but I learnt a lot from my teammates Veronica Phewa and Portia Modise,” says Lydia. “I was also nicknamed Skillz, because of what I did on the field.”

She went on to play for the national side 20 times, scoring four goals, was part of the team at the CAF African Women’s Champs in Nigeria in 2002 and again back home in 2004, and helped Banyana finish runners-up at the 2003 All Africa Games in Nigeria. Back home at club level, she was part of the WITS team that won the SASSU student champs in 2002, and then played for the Soweto Ladies team that won the national club title in 2004. While at varsity, she also represented the national student team at the World Student Games in 2001 (China) and 2003 (South Korea), having also made the basketball team for the Games in Spain in 1999.

In 2007 she was a finalist in the Shoprite Checkers/SABC2 Woman of the Year Awards, and then in February 2012 she was appointed Banyana team manager and accompanied the team to the 2012 London Olympics. As a former player, she believes she knew how to empathise and interact with the team. “Former players with the right qualifications, experience and skills must be roped into that managerial position. It was the best job ever,” says Lydia.


Having hung up her boots, Lydia says it was natural to take up running. “The endurance I gained from training when playing soccer made the transition to running easy. Running helps you get through the 90 minutes, and game time helps you on the road.” Her Comrades debut was also a natural step up: “I remember every time I told people that I’m a runner, they would ask me if I’ve done Comrades. So I told myself I’d see what it is all about.”

Now she believes that every South African should attempt the ultra “It goes with the perception that you’re not a runner until you’ve done it!” Even better, she says people should run it for a good cause, as she did in 2014. “I decided to run Comrades for a charity called SOS Africa, which funds the education and care of underprivileged African township children. My hope and dream is to empower young girls from the rural area in Mafikeng by helping them gain access to quality education not offered in the rural public schools.”