Over the last few years, Xolani Luvuno has won the hearts of South Africa by completing many gruelling long distance races on his crutches. That included him conquering one of the toughest standard marathons on the SA calendar, the Voet van Afrika Marathon, and he invites you to join him this October when he once again tackles the ‘Toughest Race with the Warmest Heart.’
Everybody knew when Xolani Luvuno was nearing the finish of the 2018 Voet van Afrika Marathon. You couldn’t miss him, thanks to his police escort with sirens blaring and lights flashing, as this inspirational hero made his way through the streets of Bredasdorp, the small town near the southern-most point of Africa.
Having spent the last 11 years on crutches, Xolani has developed an incredibly strong upper body, and he needed that strength when he took on the tough Voet. Much of the first half of the marathon is on farm roads and jeep track, and also features the tough 3km climb up the infamous Anysberg, from 13km to 16km. This did not deter Xolani, but it was still a tough day for him, says Hein Venter, Xolani’s coach, mentor, ‘father’ and unofficial spokesman, who ran it with him. “It wasn’t only the climb, though. There was an incredibly strong wind, and at one stage Xolani was literally blown off his feet!”
Xolani went through halfway in 3:03 and covered the second half of rolling tar road from Napier to Bredasdorp in three hours exactly, crossing the line in 6:03:21. He thus missed the official cut-off by just three minutes, but was nevertheless given a hero’s welcome at the finish, and at prize-giving, everybody rose as one to give him a standing ovation. “The race and the community in Bredasdorp made Xolani so welcome”, says Hein. “The night before the race he was a guest of honour at the pre-race function to tell his story. Then on race day he was called up to prize-giving to receive a special award, even though he had not made the cut-off.”
Xolani shot to fame earlier in 2018 when he finished the 90km Comrades Marathon in 16:18:59. Normally the cut-off at Comrades is 12 hours, but he was given permission by the Comrades Marathon Association to start earlier than the rest of the field, at 12:30am instead of 5:30am. His finish had everyone in the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban cheering, and was featured on television as well, and his story soon spread all around the country.
He was orphaned at a very young age, then lost his leg to bone marrow cancer, and his difficult teenage years saw him fall into the grip of substance-abuse and serve a five-year jail sentence after being convicted of housebreaking. He ended up living under a bridge in Centurion, just south of Pretoria, and begging on the streets to fund a Nyaope addiction. (Nyaope is a highly addictive combination of heroin and dagga.)
The turnaround in his life came in 2016, when Hein saw Xolani begging by the side of the road each day. One day, Hein stopped and spoke to Xolani, whose first words to him were “Hello father, how are you?” Looking back, Hein says, “There was something about Xolani. He was so open and friendly. I immediately felt drawn to him and decided to help him.” Hein decided to ‘adopt’ Xolani, taking him off the streets by finding him accommodation in Mamelodi, and giving him a job in his perfume factory.
Thanks to Hein’s influence, Xolani also took up running, and together they created a new running club, Sunbird Striders, with many of Hein’s other employees also starting to run. Besides the Comrades and Voet, Xolani has now run many other races, and this year also completed his first Half Ironman! And having turned his life around, he is regularly asked to tell his story as a motivational speaker and anti-drugs campaigner, and has been appointed an official race ambassador of the Voet as well.
MEET THE MAN AT THE VOET
As Xolani can attest, the Voet van Afrika Marathon is something different, a test of mental and physical endurance, so get your entry in for the 41st edition of this much-loved race. You can also meet Xolani at this year’s race, which will have you fired up to really take on the challenging Voet route!
WHEN: SATURDAY, 12 OCTOBER 2019
WHERE: BREDASDORP SPORT GROUNDS
ONLINE ENTRY: www.onreg.com/2019voet
RACE WEBSITE: www.voetvanafrika.co.za
RACE OFFICE: 061 921 1005
This is a challenging event that will appeal to those who want to test and develop their stamina – and after more than four decades, this is still the toughest race with the warmest heart.
Written by Sean Falconer, Editor, Modern Athlete
www.modernathlete.co.za. Photos: Anthony Rosser