Moila is run­ning for the lives of oth­ers

The Sunday Independent - - News - Fos­ter­ing a spirit of to­geth­er­ness is the only way to move South Africa for­ward, cham­pion run­ning leg­end Blanche Moila tells

THERE’S one thing you can be sure of when you catch up with Blanche Moila. There is al­ways a friendly smile and an in­stant warm­ness await­ing you.

This year the Spring­bok “run­ning ma­chine”, al­ways recog­nis­able as she wears her dis­tinc­tive white tur­ban, is dou­bly ex­cited.

This year will be her 14th Com­rades Marathon and for the first time she will be com­pet­ing as an am­bas­sador for the Hill­crest Aids Cen­tre Trust (Hact).

“I am hop­ing and pray­ing that other run­ners will join with me in com­pet­ing un­der the same ban­ner,” she says. “When you see the in­cred­i­ble work staff and vol­un­teers do to sup­port fam­i­lies rav­aged by this ter­ri­ble dis­ease, it is such an honour and priv­i­lege to be able to make even a small con­tri­bu­tion.”

Moila, 61, has run more kilo­me­tres than she cares to re­mem­ber.

“I just know it is some­thing that gets into your blood. You have to run the Com­rades to un­der­stand what draws you to run 89km. Ev­ery year you think: Shall I do it again?

“The an­swer is al­ways yes. It’s not only about the race it­self. The friend­ships you build up over the years are pre­cious. BORN on Jan­uary 31, 1957, in Pi­eters­burg, Blanche Moila was the first black fe­male run­ner to be awarded Spring­bok colours. She has rep­re­sented South Africa in­ter­na­tion­ally and has com­pleted seven Com­rades Marathons, se­cur­ing sil­ver That’s why I say to­geth­er­ness and true car­ing is what we need to take this coun­try for­ward.”

Among those ties were close friend­ships with run­ning cham­pi­ons such as Sonja Lax­ton, Zola Budd, Colleen de Reuck and Grace de Oliveira,

The bug bit, she says, when she was a young nurs­ing stu­dent com­pet­ing for the first time in a sports day.

“I’d never done much run­ning, but I soon re­alised that it was some­thing I re­ally wanted to do.”

She re­calls that the first long-dis­tance runs she at­tempted were painful.

“I was so stiff. My body was sore. A run­ning col­league said it would get bet­ter. Thank good­ness he was right.”

For Moila, a se­nior psy­chi­atric nurse at Dur­ban’s King Ge­orge V Hospi­tal, it’s al­ways been a mat­ter of jug­gling work and run­ning com­mit­ments.

“If you are ded­i­cated, you can do it,” she says with a win­ning smile.

“It’s about multi-task­ing. I think women par­tic­u­larly are very good at that.”

At the height of her ca­reer, she was run­ning an av­er­age of 120km a week. Now it is more like 90km a week, of­ten start­ing at 4.30am to fit in with her nurs­ing shifts.

Th­ese days Moila, a mem­ber in 2005.

She has com­peted in cross coun­try, 1500m, 3 000m, 5000m 10 000m, marathons and ul­tra-marathons. She re­ceived the Pres­i­den­tial Sports Award for Life­time Sports Achieve­ment (2001) and the Shoprite Check­ers Woman of the Year Award in 2002.

She has rep­re­sented South of the Sav­ages Ath­letic Club, de­votes her time to the de­vel­op­ment and train­ing of young fe­male ath­letes.

“Un­for­tu­nately, there is a lot of prej­u­dice still about young girls tak­ing up run­ning,” she says, “which is a shame be­cause there is so much tal­ent out there. What I am try­ing to do is change old per­cep­tions.

“There is a be­lief still that run­ning will slow the de­vel­op­ment of fe­male re­pro­duc­tive or­gans. My mis­sion is to chat to as many chil­dren as pos­si­ble, to ex­plain that run­ning and sport are good for the body.

“It’s tak­ing time, but I think we are get­ting some­where.”

As a pop­u­lar mo­ti­va­tional speaker, she also sup­ports an anti-drug aware­ness cam­paign. “I say to kids that if they want to ex­pe­ri­ence a nat­u­ral healthy high, they must try run­ning. My dream in life is to see young peo­ple achiev­ing a lot more than I have.”

Mean­while, she says, she will con­tinue run­ning – “for as long as God lets me”.

Her great­est am­bi­tion is to see the cre­ation of a sports academy for women, espe­cially for girls from ru­ral ar­eas.

“How amaz­ing would it be to see South African fe­male road run­ners out­run­ning the Kenyans and the Ethiopi­ans and Zim­bab­weans. Africa in the In­ter­na­tional Women’s Road Re­lay events in Japan and South Korea, and in 1993 she rep­re­sented South Africa at the World Marathon Cham­pi­onships in Spain.

Moila serves on the in­terim board of Athletics South Africa and of­ten acts as team man­ager ac­com­pa­ny­ing athletics teams abroad.

Ath­lete Blanche Moila’s dis­tinc­tive white tur­ban makes her easy to recog­nise. She is rep­re­sent­ing the Hill­crest Aids Cen­tre Trust in this year’s Com­rades Marathon.

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