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'I am Zola Budd’ - Domestic worker takes on the people’s marathon

Lungelo Matangira | 42-year-old Sindy Magede has been running to and from work for several years as a stress reliever. She has since competed in long-distance marathons and is set to take on the comrades popularly known as the ‘people’s race’ for the third time this year.

JOHANNESBURG - As a young girl growing up in rural Eastern Cape in hardship, sports and running in particular, became Sindi Magade’s (42) outlet and passion. But eventually making it to run her third Comrades marathon on Sunday was a battle, hardly affording to live, running alone, and even facing an attempted rape.

This mother of three now lives in Diepsloot, Johannesburg, and works as a domestic worker. Her big goal: running the Comrades Marathon. But there was one big challenge to overcome: affordability. Besides entry to the world-famous run, other factors to take into consideration are eating a proper racing diet, ensuring the shoes and other racing gear one wears is of the correct quality, and time to train and strategise.

An athletic woman in school, Magade did various sports and eventually began running with the boys at her school after her teacher introduced her to long distance events.

“I wanted to do short distance runs, but when my teacher got me into long distance, that’s when I knew I have stamina for it,” Magade said.

“My teacher said, ’I want you to be like Zola Budd’,” she explained to Eyewitness News.

Budd, the South African runner who became famous for taking on races barefoot, became Sindy’s hero.

“I said, ‘One day I will see Zola Budd’. I saw her on TV, on the news, and thought ‘OK, I can run Comrades’, even though I didn’t know what that was. After that, I told myself I was Zola Budd whenever I ran at school.”

Magade moved to Johannesburg to find work in the early 2000s. Living in Diepsloot and working in Rivonia meant Magade had to commute via taxi every day. Her earnings could barely cover her own expenses, while also sending money home to her mother who was at the time taking care of her two kids.

Magade began running to work not only to stay healthy but save money.

“One day I ran to work and back home and have never looked back since.”

This was not without its challenges and dangers. When she first started out running to work, Magade faced some dangers. One morning, she was almost raped by an unknown man while running early in the morning to work.

A man came up to her and asked why she was running alone and where her husband was.

“He said, ‘I’m going to show you what we do to women who run alone’,” she explained.

Magade ran across the road to avoid him but he followed her. She bent down to grab a handful of sand and threw it in his face.

Taxi drivers along the road saw their altercation came to her rescue. They threatened the man and told him that she was free to run whenever she wanted to and to never bother her again.

In 2002, Magade met her current employer, Simmone Solarsh, with whom she would eventually form a lifelong bond. Solarsh became her helping hand.

“Simmone is not like a boss to me. She is like a big sister to mother to me. I feel like I have two mothers,” she said as tears began to trail down her cheeks.

“When I told Simonne I want to run Two Oceans I didn’t have anything. She said to me, ‘you’re going there’.” The Two Oceans Marathon two years ago became Magade’s first big race.

But neither of them knew much about preparing for a big marathon.

“Sindy came to me and said she wants to run the Two Oceans, and I realised there must be a lot more to the Two Oceans than just pitching up on the day,” explains Solarsh.

Magade had to get the right training gear and prepare for the marathon, which became an expensive exercise for her. So Solarsh tried a few avenues to get her started.

“I tried to get information from another [running] club and I phoned to speak to somebody there. I thought maybe they could sponsor her and I thought maybe it’s something all running clubs have,” she explained.

But she didn’t get a positive experience. The man she called said: “A domestic worker running the Two Oceans? She should be worried about putting food on her table and not worrying about running a race in Cape Town.”

“That just fuelled me more,” said Solarsh. “I thought ‘How dare he decide who can have a dream and who shouldn’t’? Do you have to have a certain amount of money in your bank account?”

And so began Magade and Solarsh’s plan to get the running-loving woman her first marathon.

Solarsh helped Magade buy her first pair of running shoes for the marathon, while Magade organised accommodation in one of the townships in Cape Town for the marathon.

“I never thought I would be running marathons one day. All I ever thought of was Zola Budd, but I never thought I would also do what she’d once done.”

Magade ran and completed the Two Oceans in six hours and 12 minutes, a great achievement for her having done her first ever marathon. But she received news a few months after returning to Johannesburg to make it even more spectacular.

She began feeling unwell and when she went to a clinic for a checkup and found out that she was six weeks pregnant. She managed to complete the Two Marathons just a few weeks shy of her second month of pregnancy.
“I was shocked that I ran the marathon while pregnant,” she said, adding that she even tried to hide the pregnancy from Solarsh. When she eventually told her, she received nothing but support and now, Solarsh is like a second mother to her baby girl, Somila.

Solarsh also takes charge of Magade’s diet when she trains for marathons to help her maintain discipline.
“Simonne is very strict. At home now, they call me Simmone Two.”

Being pregnant and then raising a little baby meant Magade was out of action for a while, but when Somila was a bit older, the Comrades Marathon came knocking on her door.

She met a man named Siyabonga who began training with her in Diepsloot and inspired her to do the Comrades. Siyabonga will be doing his fifth Comrades this year.

At first, she was scared of entering the marathon. She saw people collapsing while training. But she maintained her goal.

Magade first ran the Soweto Marathon before qualifying for her first Comrades in 2017, which she finished in just under the cut off 12-hour mark.

“The second [Comrades in 2018] was harder for me because it was a downhill run. I am better at uphill than downhill,” Magade said. This year, she hopes to finish and improve her time to nine or 10 hours.

This year, Solarsh wanted Magade to enjoy the full Comrades experience and sleep in the runners’ village and buy merchandise to come home with. So, she set up a fundraiser for this, with the help of a friend who is also a Comrades runner.

“We had the most incredible support from friends as well as from people overseas. We even had a US Marine who was stationed in Afghanistan who wrote Sindy a good luck message,” Solarsh explained.

As Magade takes on the Comrades Marathon on Sunday, her children, family, community will be cheering her on.
Solarsh said she hoped Somila and her siblings would be inspired by their super mum.

“The way I see it, if I’m helping Sindy achieve some of her dreams, I hope that sparks something in her kids to be able to say ‘my dreams count as well and if my mom can be a domestic worker and run the Comrades, then anything is possible’. I believe that you can come from anywhere and you deserve to realise your dreams.”
For Magade, she is already living her dream.

“When I’m running, I am happy on the road. So, I’m not stressed about what time I am going to finish, I know I’m going to finish Comrades. When I’m doing the Comrades, I am not running for money, I am running to finish and enjoy it.”

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