COMRADES 2017 conquered!
12 July 2017
On 04 June Jean Altomari from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania became the first self-propelled wheelchair athlete to complete the Comrades Marathon and did so in an impressive 10 Hours and 16 Minutes.
Seven years ago Jean was in a motor vehicle accident and as a result is now a paraplegic and wheelchair user. Her love for sports soon led her to hand-cycling and competing as a wheelchair athlete in running events. She first became interested in participating in this gruelling race after reading up about Chaeli Mycroft and Anita Engelbrecht who became the first wheelchair athletes to successfully participate and complete the Comrades Marathon in 2016.
After months of dedicated training Jean arrived in Durban ready to take on the 89km uphill race and was awarded a bronze medal. There were extremely challenging moments along the route but she gave it everything she had and made history! When asked about her achievement Jean had this to say “My internal mantra during the process of getting to the starting line of the Comrades Marathon was that it is known as the ultimate human race and before anything else; female, American, paralyzed; I am human. As with all the other participants I was seeking the experience of it. It was a more phenomenal and pinnacle life experience than I anticipated.”
Joining Jean in successfully completing the Comrades Marathon was Team Beastie, made up of Chaeli Mycroft and her running partner, Barnie Cilliers from Maluti Multisport Club in Bethlehem, who were awarded Vic Clapham medals for finishing in 11 Hours 51 Minutes 51 seconds. This was Chaeli’s second medal after completing her back to back marathon this year. Team Beastie were assisted by Srikanth Karumuri from Brackenfell Running Club at watering stations and along the route. Although Barnie was the sole pusher, Sri’s role was incredibly valuable in their successful finish after a very hot, hard run.
Team Blitsige Blitsie, made up of Anita Engelbrecht and her running partner, Hilton Murray sadly did not complete the Comrades Marathon this year. The team faced several challenges including watering stations which ran out of water and cramping. Hilton and Anita missed the Umlaas Road cut off time by 1 minute and 31 seconds.
This is what Jean, Chaeli and Anita had to say when they were asked about their Comrades experience:
Jean Altomari: Volunteers, spectators and my family & friends who gave their support from afar, they each were pertinent to this experience. Comrades and its characteristics draws humans together and creates a community that supports each individual through their own personal journey up to, and through, the race. My gratitude for that experience, and to my Comrades community, will stay with me always.
Chaeli Mycroft: Comrades Marathon is so much more than an Ultra Marathon. It is one place where it doesn’t matter what your background is, the colour of your skin, who you love, or what level of ability you have. Everyone on the road has one purpose – to get to the finish line, but to do it together. In this race, each person is celebrated and each person is supported to do their best. Getting my back to back medal with 8 minutes to spare was both terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. It truly does take all of us to make the Comrades the phenomenal race that it is.
Anita Engelbrecht: Although Team Blitsige Blitsie is disappointed we are not embarrassed by our achievement of completing 66 kilometres of this gruelling race. As we all know “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get”. We will be back again next year and look forward to doing it all again!
Jean, Chaeli and Anita believe that people living with disabilities should be given the same opportunities as able-bodied individuals. They believe in building an inclusive society for all and they are using their Comrades Marathon as a fundraiser to support the Chaeli Sports and Recreation Club.
The team has had incredible support and their main sponsors, TFG and Totalsports have assisted the team with various aspects including their kit.
The CSRC will continue to advocate for the rights of differently abled athletes to compete in mainstream sporting activities. Jean, Team Beastie and Blitsige Blitsie feel strongly in creating opportunities for other differently-abled athletes.