delivered at the Launch of the Comrades Centenary Hope Challenge on 25th March 2021

We have all heard the expression “Hope springs eternal”. What more can one say but “thank goodness” in our current unprecedented circumstances of such profound disruption and uncertainty, that as human beings we are hard-wired to hope?

A year ago, tomorrow, here in South Africa we were all frantically rushing around buying toilet paper, sanitizer and foodstuffs, to prepare for what was anticipated to be a sharp, severe three-week period of National Lockdown, commencing at midnight on 26th March 2020, with the aim of somehow “flattening the curve” and curtailing the spread of the dreaded Coronavirus pandemic within our borders, while also buying time to enable the shoring up of medical resources for any possible onslaught of the pestilence which might follow.

A year ago, today, none of us anticipated that we would be where we are right now. On the 25th of March last year we had not even taken the decision to postpone the 2020 Comrades Marathon, as we remained hopeful that we would still be able to present it, with three months to go during which we had hope that we would quickly beat the Coronavirus into submission.

It was only a few weeks later that on the 16th of April in conjunction with ASA, we announced a possible postponement, and finally on the 8th of May, that we announced the complete cancellation of what would have been the 95th running of The Ultimate Human Race.

A year ago, today, no one in the world could have anticipated the scale of the global macro health, political, social, psychological and economic repercussions ahead, nor the insidious magnitude with which the scourge of Covid-19 would creep into our personal spaces, robbing us of lives, livelihoods and quality of life, ravaging human communities and detrimentally affecting every aspect of our way of living, from our relationships with loved ones, to our social interactions, our jobs, entertainment, environment, exercise, sport, religion, you name it, just about every single facet of our lives has been dramatically shifted; and even now there is not even remotely a clear end in sight, and only the vaguest illusions of there being a so-called new normality somewhere down the line.

As human beings fortunately we are adaptable to our circumstances. We are a resilient species, who for better or worse, have the intellect, imagination, and ingenuity to solve problems and overcome obstacles and adversity. 

Our sport of distance running has been particularly hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, in that by its very nature of mass-participation and inclusivity, it characterises the definition of what is classified as a so-called super-spreader event.

Last year after we eventually cancelled the 2020 Comrades Marathon on the 8th of May, in our resilience we hastily put together an event, which enabled Comrades runners, aspiring Comrades runners, their family members, friends and supporters both here and abroad to choose their own time, route and distance to virtually participate in The Ultimate Human Race.  It was an event that captured the imagination and by far exceeded our wildest ambitions, which proved to be a testimony to the resilience and tenacity of runners and the power of loyalty to the Comrades brand.

Not in our wildest dreams (or should I say nightmares) could we have imagined that a year later we would be faced with exactly the same dilemma, and the even more painful decision of having to cancel the 2021 Comrades Marathon in its Centenary Year.

On Monday 24th of May, the Comrades Marathon will be 100 years old, and we fully intend to celebrate the milestone, and the values of grit, determination, courage, camaraderie, hope, humanity and triumph over adversity upon which the Comrades Marathon was founded, regardless that we will not be staging a normal event this year. 

The details of our Centenary Celebrations will be announced at a later date, however one of the most important facets of our Centenary Celebrations will be the staging of the Comrades Centenary Hope Challenge, our second virtual event which will be staged on Sunday, the 13th of June, the date on which the 2021 Comrades Marathon was originally scheduled and the theme for which will be focussed on Hope. 

The campaign slogan for this year’s event is ‘Ithemba – Hope Is’, which aims to acknowledge and express each individual runner’s Hope, what the feeling means to them and to inspire other athletes to dig deep and discover their own Hopes and dreams for a better future and the new normal in a world ravaged by Covid-19.

To have Hope is to desire an outcome that makes your life better in some way. It can not only help make a tough present situation more bearable, but also to eventually improve lives, because envisioning a better future motivates one to take the steps to make it happen.

To have Hope is to see light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes just enough to reveal the path ahead and ultimately the way out.

For some it means always looking on the bright side and seeing challenges as opportunities, for others it means simply Hoping for the best, as Hope for many is the one thing that can get you through the toughest of times or the darkest of days. Hope is the last thing ever lost.

If you carry only one thing throughout your life, let it be Hope. Hope that you are stronger than any challenge that comes your way and Hope that you are on the path to where you are meant to be. 

My personal Hope is that our runners, supporters and stakeholders will participate in whatever way, large or small, that they choose to in our Comrades Centenary Hope Challenge, but equally importantly that each and every one of them also chooses to bring Hope to our Comrades Marathon Official Charities, whose needs at this point in time, and the contributions they are being called upon to make, are greater than ever. We are asking our runners to not only choose Hope over despair, but to also run for a cause greater than themselves, each according to his or her means, and give Hope and charity to those less fortunate than themselves.

In closing I leave you with the words of three great men and one incredible woman on the subject of Hope.

The 44th President of the USA, Barack Obama has said that early on in his journey and often later when facing difficult crossroads, on occasions when he found himself in the face of difficulty or in the face of uncertainty, he often reflected upon and found courage in what he called “the audacity of hope”.

Earlier this week as we celebrated Human Rights Day, we were reminded of the founder of the Pan African Congress, Robert Sobukwe’s philosophy of “holding out the Hope of democracy beyond the stormy sea of struggle”.

And amongst many other kernels of wisdom with which he left us, the father of our nation and first president of the democratic South Africa, President Nelson Mandela urged us, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears”.

And finally, I leave you with the words of the celebrated American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou who said “Hope and fear cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Invite one of them in to stay.”

So there you have it, the theme for the Comrades Centenary Hope Challenge is Ithemba / Hope is …

We HOPE that you choose to join us as we celebrate 100 years with our #ComradesCentenaryHopeChallenge helping to keep the spirit of The Ultimate Human Race alive. As CMA we are committed to putting “Runners First” and providing value for money. Every participant will receive a real as well as a virtual medal, as well as standing the chance to win fabulous lucky draw prizes, and every participant in the 21,1km, 45km and 90km will also receive a Limited-Edition Comrades Centenary Hope Challenge T-shirt, over and above the operational costs which CMA will absorb.  Your support will contribute towards keeping this cherished institution alive beyond our Centenary Year. #ComradesMarathon #Ithemba #HopeIs #TheUltimateHumanRace