Runners for Health, a group of runners from the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), will be participating in this year's Comrades Marathon. The annual 89 km race, running between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, will take place on Sunday. Read here why they describe it as their biggest challenge yet.
Statement from Runners for Health
The team of eight, that will be running the marathon, consists of Sharon Ekambaram, Vuyiseka Dubula, Tantaswa Ndlelana, Mark Heywood, Lumkile Sizila, Mosuli Qhaba, Thanduxolo Mnqgawa and Akhona Dutyulwa. The eight are part of a national group of runners that was founded in 2011. They have been training very hard over the past year and proudly carried a flag proclaiming ‘HIV positive' from the start to finish of the Soweto and the Two Oceans marathons.
The group's Facebook page, "runners, walkers, cyclists for health", which has 247 members, says that one does not need to be HIV positive or an AIDS activist to join. Everyone can join for fun, fitness and support.
The Runners for Health are taking up this challenge to encourage other fellow activists and ordinary people living with HIV to join this new wellness and physical health initiative. The group has made running not just a personal quest, but a political and social one. They believe that carrying an HIV positive flag while running breaks personal and social barriers towards HIV, creating openness and combating stigma. The group of runners are spreading the joy of running in our country, which is facing rising rates of non-communicable diseases. The group's efforts are also in line with the objectives of the National Strategic Plan for HIV/AIDS 2012-2016 (NSP). Pillars three and four of the NSP aim to reduce stigma and discrimination and promote a healthy lifestyle for people living with HIV.
As the TAC runners team departs for the marathon, Vuyiseka Dubula, who is TAC's General Secretary and has lived openly with HIV for ten years says, "I cannot help but reflect that it has been months of cold, rain, sunshine, aches, sweat, tears and tests of our wills. I have been seriously running for the past two years but never thought I would ever run the Comrades Marathon. The feeling I have at the moment is unexplainable, it is mixture of excitement, fear and anxiety. Mark Heywood, the Director of Section27, who has run the Comrades Marathon for years has been our running bus driver and has helped the group to prepare for this task.
"We are also running this Comrades Marathon to raise awareness about how social movements like TAC are struggling to survive during these financially difficult times. We therefore urge all members of society to support us with monthly donations. The group accepts any donations such as training shoes (new or old), caps, transport, water bottles, vests, and your cheering smile."
Tune in to SABC1 this Sunday to watch the Comrades Marathon. The race will be covered between from 6:00 am and 5:30 pm. TAC's group of runners is aiming to finish the race in 11 hours (around 4:30pm).