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"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth. "
On a random day in sunny Durban, my sister and I had just finished loading the car en-route to Phakamisa, my home where I grew up. For those of you who don’t know, Phakamisa(which means “lift up”) is a “smallanyana” township on the outskirts of King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape . A place where most of my childhood dreams were incubated so naturally I was excited to go back. We arrived, late in the night after a sometimes very treacherous and exhausting 10 hours of travel. A lot happened along the way, one event that sticks out is when we were about an hour away from home, I suddenly got sick. I abruptly came to halt on the side of a dark, rural road outside of Peelton, got out and puked. I’m talking about this because when we arrived home, I couldn’t find my wallet. I couldn’t find it anywhere in the car and in a panic I asked my sister to tag along with me back to the spot so I could look for it there . It was a far-fetched attempt but the exhaustion had me thinking in a weird way. So we drove back and when I (obviously) couldn’t find the wallet, we trekked home, at this point on the verge of collapse. A consequence of this is that my sister walked out of the car and forgot to close the door of the car. I also had not noticed anything so it came as a surprise when at around 2am in the morning there was a loud knock on our door. My sister answered and I was asked to come to the door. I was confused! Who could possibly be looking for me at this time ? I went to the door and it was two older guys who I grew up with and who are in some way connected to my family. “ Anaso, izobona, nisheye umnyango wemoto evuliwe. Sifuna uk’bonisa uba asithathanga niks. Sincedile sifike ngelixesha ngoba ngeyithathiwe lemoto ngoku. Ezilaaitie zilapha ngoku zistout gqhit” (Anaso you guys left the car door open. We didn’t take anything but we wanted to show you because if we had arrived any later this car would’ve been gone! The kids here nowadays are very bad) Now, I had been wanting to put together a training clinic for some time now but this one memory had all the necessary ingredients for me to take action. I had been scared to take action before. On the one hand here were these guys who were born and raised in Phakamisa and who showed the type of good qualities that we wished more people around us had and on the other hand, the resort to a life of crime and drugs because of lack of opportunity and minimal ways to get active and engaged in society . Yes, I know that everybody knows how it goes but to actually see it happening right where I grew up hits harder .
Make no mistake , Phakamisa is not 5- star in any way but I don’t recall it ever being so lifeless. One guy that I grew up with, ended up killing his older brother not too long ago. The same brother who looked after him and his other siblings when their parents passed away. As I said, I grew up around him and we played on the streets together and I know that he was never bad in any way, but a toxic environment on top of emotional stress can yield those results over time.
The next day, one of the guys came to my place and he started relaying to me and my sister some other sad stories. People I know breaking into neighbors houses to feed a drug habit, people I grew up with behind bars for housebreaking , holding people at gun point and I guess all the other bad things that can be imagined. He was a relatively young guy but his face looked old as consequence of, I would think, the depression and pain mixed with the years of alcohol intoxication. This too was a guy who had/has dreams just like many of us did growing up in Phakamisa. Many of the guys were more talented than me , and I just don’t want the cycle of “Imagine if he had opportunities…” to continue, when I could help in a small way now . Track and field has opened me up to many opportunities and it would be a shame if I didn’t impart some knowledge to those that are coming up so that they can help themselves achieve their dreams . I fully believe that there are many more talented and smart guys in our townships and that when they finally are successful in life, they can follow this one example of giving back because that is how communities like ours will maintain and thrive on positivity as years go by. Sports provides opportunities for scholarships and a way to build discipline, learn how to problem solve, build positive relationships with peers and friends and the traveling is not a bad perk either. Track and field is no different in providing these opportunities and I believe that this one component, if made an integral part of townships like ours would be huge. I’m referring to all sports but by default I’m sticking to what I know. Sports is powerful. Imagine the possibilities for our townships if from this small effort me and my team are able to create a blueprint to take to other townships and create a network that connects through track and field ? We have imagined that and it is very possible .
I met my first coach at a training clinic . It was at the Jan Smuts stadium in
East London. Aaaah! the spectacular the feats I have witnessed on that track. The athleticism that has been showcased at more than regular intervals at that hallowed ground. MY WORD!!!Think of names like Avumile Ngetu, Leon Makiwane, Daniel van Der Vyver,Ofentse Boloko just to name a few! Would you believe it if I told you that that track is completely ruined. Not so long ago it was in flames. My friend, Jimmy Ntungwa sent me a voice note about the absolutely shameful state that it is in. Stolen equipment , looting, people living under the stands. I have been there to train whenever I was at home and it is in ruins and it seems that no one cares enough. So me and my friends(even better to say my team) who share the same passion for track and field and know the possibilities that track and field bring got together because we would never accomplish anything if we always tried to wait for the government to intervene. They might not see the value that we do, and as sad as that is , we could either complain or take action and here we are , choosing to do the latter. The only thing that we are hoping for is to instill that same passion to those younger, give them skills so that we breed a group of people that see the same values we hold and protect our sport for years to come . We have these crazy ideas for track and field in the Border area and this is our first step in what we hope will be continuity and prosperity.
The training clinic will be a way for us as a team to build athletics again with help from our own experiences . We will focus on having 32 kids to begin with. It is a small number and leaves little room for a greater inclusion but we want to start small so that we can have a blueprint for continuity and also for us no to overwhelm ourselves . 16 kids can register online and the other 16 will come from a township, which naturally for the first one will be Phakamisa because of obvious reasons. In time, and as we grow we will find ways for greater inclusion and adding on to the number of days.
I have decided to end my season early. It wasn’t an easy decision to come to, what with the chance of representing my country at African Champs in Nigeria and with a hope of qualifying for the Continental Cup later on this year in Ostrava, it could never have been easy but it was a decision that had to be made. Disappointment is obviously the first feeling that wells up in the heart but looking back on the season I’m surprised I even made it this far .
My season was long, I had started training in August 2017 after taking 2 weeks off of what was supposed to be a 6 week break. This was to qualify for the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April 2018 and Athletics South Africa was to announce their team in December. I wanted to go , it was a great opportunity to get back into a championship and the motivation of not qualifying for the IAAF World Championships fueled me. My first race came in November 2017 where I ran a windy 20.11 in the 200m and qualified for the relay pool with a 10.16 in the 100m. I registered in a meet every month after that . Fast forward to February 2018 and I had become comfortable with sprinting again, my haunting injury problems seemed to be a thing of the past, I was ready to go. Whether I did too much will always be the question that lingers in my mind if ever I look back on this season. On the 24th of February I entered in the 100m at the Athletics Gauteng North Championship. On that day I registered 10.25, 10.12, 10.07 all windy. I followed that up with a solid 20.13 the next week, (March 1), a 15.08 in the 150(8 March), squeezed in 2 x 10.2 runs at South African Championships( March 14) and finally a 20.07 ( March 22). It didn’t seem like much right ? I certainly didn't think so but my body was saying something else. I was tired. I went back to Durban where I took week a off to rejuvenate and gear up for the Commonwealth Games, there is nothing a little break cannot fix. Or so I thought . The damage was done, indescribable fatigue was starting to set in. I didn’t want to believe it. Every time I took a week off, I came back sharper, motivated and even if there was no clock to run against I knew I was running fast. This time felt different . Don't get me wrong , I wasn’t moving slow but there was certainly something missing and it was replaced with this weird exhaustion.
My sudden deterioration of fitness stared at me glaringly at the Commonwealth Games in Australia .I didn't make it past the semi-finals in the 200m and my goal of an individual commonwealth medal was shattered. However, I was able to come back with a silver medal in the 4x100m relay which was amazing. I went back to Durban to reset, to lick my wounds and to restructure the plan that me and my team set. The fatigue went back with me , and it stayed with me .
On the other side of the world, in the hot, desert city of Phoenix, Arizona in the US, my wife had just given birth to our son, Zolani-Parker . It had been a month that he’d graced us with his presence and it was going on two and I still hadn't touched him, held him in my arms and that emotional stress added to the fire. I hadn’t hugged my pillar of strength , my wife, in almost six months and though FaceTime has made long distance more bearable , there are some things that technology will never replace ( well, I hope not). I was anxious to be with them and to share in the joys of parenthood. Elation gripped my heart when the US consulate finally gave me the green light to go and be with my family( my bag with my passport was stolen out of my car in 2016 and I was denied entry for almost 2 years after that) and with all the traveling arrangements and last minute packing, I found minimal time for some great training. I was with with my family though and the joy of bonding with my son and being reunited with my wife was second to none. It had been a long , tumultuous and unpredictable period for us and it felt like a weight had been lifted of our shoulders. My time at home with family was short-lived. I was only at home for 5 days and I was off to Jamaica to compete.By this point my strength levels had suffered and the second part of my season suffered as a result too. 20.70 in Jamaica , in the process getting whooped by a talented, hungry high school phenom. A sluggish 20.4 at the magical Prefontaine Classic for 4th place. 20.8 in a childishly cold( it was 11 degrees, really?) Turku in Finland and a last gap 20.4 in Ostrava. I was depleted.
Finally the question came… should I continue the season? The facts were all there , I was exhausted. The type of exhaustion where an extended break is recommended. Besides , I’d been living in an Airbnb for 6-7months out of a suitcase and finding a stable place to settle with my family and join a training group was burning on my mind. Moments of adversity will always have something positive to lighten the blow and I didn't think any differently this time . So after much consultation with those more knowledgeable than me, I made the hard decision to rest up, find me a coach and get ready for the 2019 season. This comes with a risk , I might not be the same person next year and track and field has an ever changing landscape with all the talent that springs up every year. But thinking too far into the future can cause unwanted anxiety , and once that anxiety sets loose, it can feel like rolling down a mountain. The present is the only certainty we have and spending most of our time in it can bring a greater peace . In the meantime I am learning so much about fatherhood and though I may not be in training ,my mind is still fixed firmly on track and field and the hopes and dreams that started me off on this journey 10 years ago.