Pictured: Bongmusa Mthembu is seen wearing his white rosary on the road to winning his first Comrades in 2014. (Photo: Kierran Allen)

Top athlete overcomes poverty and hardship through the grace of God

[Source: The Southern Cross, 5 September 2017]

Bongmusa Mthembu, South Africa’s leading marathon athlete, knows that all he has achieved in his career is not because he is talented, but because of the grace of God. Wearing his rosary while he runs serves to remind him of that.

“I always run with my rosary, because I was raised in a Catholic home. I pray before and after my run, and then I leave the rest up to God,” he told Erin Carelse of The Southern Cross. After winning this year’s Comrades he made a pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Kevelaer in Mariannhill diocese to give thanks to Our Lady.

The professional runner, who hails from Bulwer, near Pietermaritzburg, claimed his second title at this year’s Comrades Marathon “up-run” in a time of 5:35:34. Only four South Africans have won the challenging 90km ultra marathon more than twice.

“I hope that I can inspire children, and show them that it doesn’t matter where you come from, or what you’ve dealt with in your life, those things don’t determine who or what you become,” the athlete said. “Perseverance, determination and hard work, and being passionate about everything you do, will help you to succeed and achieve your goals.”

Mr Mthembu began his running career at Engudwini Primary School. He left the rural village of Bulwer after matriculating at Ndingelwa High School and moved to Pietermaritzburg, where he found it difficult to get a job. Eventually he worked as a bricklayer.

In 2004, he began to enter races and won the Maritzburg Marathon in 2005. He always dreamt that he would one day win the Comrades. To date he has competed in 12 Comrades marathons and has cemented his place as South Africa’s top ultra-distance runner.

“I was very proud of myself after I won the “up-run” Comrades because I know where I come from, what I’ve been through, and what I’ve had to overcome – so to see the fruit of my labour was a very humbling moment for me,” he said.

Mr Mthembu said that many people had helped him in his career: his training partner, team, coach, sponsors Nike. “They have all played a very important role – and for that I want to thank them.” Above all, he attributes his remarkable achievements to the grace of God.

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