Participating in the Comrades Marathon is not the same as competing – it’s not yet the achievement we want, says ARI SEIRLIS.
Congratulations to Chaeli Mycroft and Anita Engelbrecht for enduring just over 10 hours of bouncing around over 90 km in their wheelchair joggers, being courageously pushed by James Chevallier, Brett Glen, and Hilton Murray.
I was fortunate enough to witness these two teams on the road on Comrades Day and applauded as they passed.
I then asked myself, “Who am I applauding? The pushers? The passengers? The concept of two people with disabilities being pushed 90 km?” I don’t know the answer but I do have a view on this activity.
An extract from the media release states: “There was extra pressure on us to do well, with this being the first time that wheelchair athletes were participating in the Comrades. Getting a bronze medal proved that we have a right to be part of this amazing race and this opens the door for participation by other wheelchair athletes.”
The Achilles Athletics Club of South Africa has been in discussions with the Comrades Marathon Association CMA) for many years, with patience and understanding on both sides, to ensure that when the opportunity exists to provide equitable support and the environment for athletes with disabilities to participate in the Comrades Marathon – emulating the same categories and organisation that is applied in the New York Marathon – then athletes with disabilities in South Africa can celebrate the opportunity to compete in the Comrades Marathon.
I have had the privilege of competing in the New York Marathon twice, and it gave me an opportunity to understand the difference between competing and participating.
What these two resilient women did was participate, not compete. The objective is to be able to compete in various categories and then we can truly celebrate the achievement of integrating people with disabilities into the Comrades Marathon. I’m afraid this was a case of the CMA being placed under duress, and legal instruction from ASA to allow Chaeli and Anita into the field.
There needs to be an element of self-propulsion in the case of a wheelchair user and self-mobilisation in the case of any other disability for you to classify yourself as competing, and for that you earn a medal and an achievement that you can boast about.
The rest is just participating, whether you are a spectator, a marshal, a volunteer at a seconding station or participating by being pushed the whole way, as was the case with Chaeli and Anita.
The way forward would be for athletes with disabilities through the Achilles Club to engage further and with more vigour, to find the right recipe that is safe and accessible for successful integration of all athletes with disabilities into this event, so that barriers can truly be broken.