Wheelchair racers shine in SA

By IAfrica
In Zimbabwe
Mar 2nd, 2014

In the course of all the running events in which we take part, we have come to know Edmund Makutya — one of the country’s top Wheelchair racers — well, and follow his racing progress, and that of his peers, with close interest and admiration.

OutDoor with Rosie Mitchell

One simply cannot fail to be inspired and humbled by these courageous physically challenged people, who rise way above the obstacles posed by their disabilities, and many other obstacles, to achieve great things in the competitive world of wheelchair racing.

Without doubt, Zimbabwe’s wheelchair racers face tougher challenges than many of their fellow competitors from other countries.

Their resources are severely limited, jobs are hard to find, income is very scarce, and they simply cannot afford the super-light, puncture-proof, carbon fibre racing wheelchairs enjoyed by many participants in the races that they enter; which makes their amazing recent achievements even more admirable and noteworthy!

In as fine a demonstration of the human spirit of perseverance and sheer determination as you could come by, nine Zimbabwean wheelchair racers returned from the annual Outeniqua Wheelchair Challenge in George, South Africa, with four Gold medals, one Silver medal, and with three out of the top six places in the main event — the T53-54 Marathon (42.2km)!

This, they achieved, despite their rickety old wheelchairs, all of which have long since seen better days, and spending two days and two nights on public buses to get to the start line — an exhausting procedure to say the least!

This event is the highest profile wheelchair event in Africa, and regularly attracts participants from outside our continent — this year, the 1 080 strong field of entrants included people from as far away as Australia and New Zealand. Racing from a distinct disadvantage in terms of equipment, these amazing results clearly demonstrate that these heroes more than make up for this with grit, pure talent and sheer determination!

A festive send-off ceremony for this plucky crew was hosted by Nando’s Avondale, one of the racing group’s various sponsors, and was well-attended by media, sponsors and government representatives, including the Deputy Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Tabetha Kanengoni-Malinga, who gave a speech.

Makutya, who is a long time wheelchair racing champion and has won various high-profile events multiple times including the Victoria Falls Marathon, the Outeniqua Marathon, the Europcar 20 Miler and the Kariba Half Marathon, also gave a speech; so did current chairperson of the association, Madeline Madzivire, and retired Colonel Nhemachena, the Director General of the Sports and Recreation Commission. Sponsors presented some of their contributions such as suitcases, kit bags and uniforms to the team at the event.

The Racers have mobilised themselves in more ways than one in the past 18 months or so, by setting up the Wheelchair Racer and Hand Cyclists Association, and by securing the voluntary assistance for fund-raising, publicity and logistics, of their very resourceful manager, the affable Chris Katore.

He is doing an excellent job of ensuring that these brave athletes receive the attention and accolades they fully deserve for their efforts.

As a result, more corporate sponsorship is these days coming their way. Badly needed, and well deserved, it assuredly is! The costs of getting to and from races, and of accommodation while on site, is considerable.

Then, there is the on-going equipment challenge, with the need to keep on repairing and preserving their outdated wheelchairs, and suitable attire for racing.

As for the necessary very high volume of training required to stay at the top of their game, one can only stand in awe of how this team of brave people manage to squeeze it in — on top of long working hours, long commutes to and from work, and the need to train in daylight, for safety’s sake.

Zimbabwean wheelchair racers have been travelling to George for a decade now, to compete in this prominent event, and continue to surpass themselves annually, this year being no exception.

Dorcas Hwatira won the Women’s 21,1km Half Marathon while Wilson Nyakoko won the Men’s, Alexander Mkandla won the T51-52 Category Marathon (42,2km) and Thandiwe Ndhlovu, the Women’s marathon. While Margaret Bangajena and Madeline Madzivire very sadly suffered the most dreaded of occurrences — punctures — nonetheless they soldiered on to finish the Marathon in just over three hours. Credit is fully due to them for this — hardly easy on flat tires! In the Main Event, the T53-54 Marathon Category, prizes are only awarded to the top six athletes each year.

Our Zimbabwean crew did themselves proud, here, as well — Elford Moyo came Second, Samson Muroyiwa came Fifth, and Makutya came Sixth!

Warmest congratulations to all our fine participants in this important race on the wheelchair racing calendar.

As Manager Chris Katore pointed out when announcing their achievements; they were great, indeed; and if blessed with modern wheelchairs, all members of our team can continue to do even better and win yet more accolades for themselves and for our country. These courageous athletes are an inspiration.

They defy so many odds to achieve greatness in their sport, and thoroughly deserve our support and admiration for their application, focus, determination and sheer hard work, which so demonstrably pays off in their race successes.

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