28 May, 2013

Following the Footsteps

Following the Footsteps

“It’s simple for me,” says Nzondwane resident Mandla Zwane. “I was born blind, so I’m used to it. I can run in the dark, too, because that’s how I am,” he laughs, “I know my way around training and I know Comrades.” From a young age, Mandla had a love for running and at Arthur Blaxall School in Pietermaritzburg, he would compete in the 400m and 800m races and beat many an opponent. As he grew older, the distances became longer.


In 2006, Mandla entered Comrades for the first time. As a boy, he would join the spectators alongside the road and cheer the Comrades runners on, wishing to be a part of the glorious event one day. “I knew I could make it, so I did,” he says, “and now I want to keep coming back to Comrades to cut off some of my finishing times.” From a 9:10:52 finish in 2007, Mandla pushed up to 8:19:45 the following year. This year he finished in a stellar time of 7:52:58 (his personal best) and has no intention of slowing down. He’s completed the Comrades six times now, all without a running guide, and holds five Bill Rowan medals as well as one bronze.


Mandla survives on a disability grant and his gracious don’t-pity-me attitude has made him an inspiration to many runners and supporters. “I get so much support when I run. There are always people looking after you at Comrades!” Mandla was also a recipient of the 2012 Spirit of Comrades award for his determination to never back down, despite his disability. “I didn’t believe them when they called me about the award. Then they kept calling and it was an amazing surprise to receive it. It was the first time I wore a suit!”


For Mandla, the secret to his talent is not smoking or drinking, training hard, and the unbelievable support he gets from his mother. “Some people tell her I should stop running because it’s dangerous and I could get injured, but she tells them that I can do whatever I want. When I don’t have enough money to go to races, she always helps me where she can and motivates me.”


His future looks positive and he has already entered Comrades 2013 and is looking to do well when Two Oceans rolls around. “I am happy with my life – because you may never have everything in life, but you must be satisfied with what you have achieved.”