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Sport heroes can be found in the most unexpected places

DDan Lombard, left, with Heyneke Meyer.

IImagine running over halfway to the moon.

If it sounds like a crazy idea, that’s probably because it is, although it never stopped Bruce Fordyce, who this week clocked up his 200 000th kilometre of running. I do a little running myself – and once beat Fordyce in a park run, although he was going very slowly – and it’s a mind-bending thought to imagine he has run so much.

It’s a source of inspiration for many that his first run in 1976 was no more than a gentle shuffle around the block. We now know that was the start of a remarkable record that saw him win nine Comrades titles and become an icon of the sport. In later life he became a prominent (and excellent) public speaker and is the driving force behind South Africa’s park run phenomenon.

Upon learning of his landmark run this week, I got to thinking about other local sports heroes of mine. These aren’t the obvious ones who score tries for the Springboks or runs for the Proteas, but rather the everyday people who quietly light up other sports.

There’s Doug Ryder, the former cyclist now ensconced as team principal of the Dimension Data team. He does remarkable work championing his team all over the world, luring star riders and cracking entries for major races. He’s a hero who deserves every acclaim.

Closer to home, there’s former SA light-heavyweight champion Ryno Liebenberg. Not especially talented, but possessed with the heart of a lion, he’s often beaten better boxers. He takes his licks too, getting cut to pieces or robbed of a decision in a faraway town overseas. The thing with him, though, is that he understands the business. Every disappointment is treated with little more than a shrug . . . and then it’s onto the next fight.

He’s a wonderful, earthy talker, too, a standout in a sport where too few locals know how to entertain beyond the boxing ring.

A similar character is mixed martial artist Andrew van Zyl, the EFC heavyweight champion. A huge bear of a man, he spends his days as a school teacher and first team coach. It’s almost an old-fashioned existence for a pro sportsman, but for Van Zyl it’s a case of giving back. He just happens to love both teaching and smashing faces. He’s my kind of hero.

Sticking with academia, of a sort, it’s almost a sport trying to keep up with Sherylle Calder, the frenetic former SA hockey player now making her mark as a visual sports expert. Calder has worked with the Springboks – she sports World Cup-winning medals with both SA and England – and has done work with Formula One, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills, Ernie Els, Tottenham Hotspur and the All Blacks.

She’s made it big internationally and we probably shouldn’t be too surprised that her current top client is Eddie Jones, who doesn’t miss a trick.

FFarai Chinomwe.

How about Farai Chinomwe, the backward running Rastafarian who pops up all over Joburg at various road races and brings his shtick to Comrades each year. The part-time bee-keeper has run Two Oceans, Om die Dam and Comrades backwards, doing so to raise awareness around bees and their threatened ecology.

His inclusion in this offbeat list is based on the cheerfulness he demonstrates when he runs and his daring to be different. He gets plenty of chirps and endless staring, but he doesn’t mind, so long as it’s his bees who benefit.

It’s a similar case with Richard Laskey, the prodigious runner who annually runs Comrades in a cow suit in aid of cancer sufferers. It’s a cause close to home: his young wife died of cancer and he fights it any way he can. Bravo to him.

There’s the rugby writer Dan Lombard, who 10 years ago broke his neck playing rugby for Pretoria Boys High. Undeterred, the quadriplegic attained his honours in journalism and is a familiar sight at rugby events around SA.

Remarkably, every word is typed out by his tongue via his phone. Watching him at work inspires a sense of awe and is a compelling reminder that not all heroes need to be glamorous goal-scorers or headline makers. – © Sunday Tribune



Categories: Mixed Bag

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