Sixty two years ago, some guys in Natal had a crazy idea. They decided to start a road race. But they wanted to make the race the hardest race in the world. So they found the biggest hills in the country and made the race 91 kilometres long. They called the race the Comrades Marathon.
Every year, people still run the race. And today, the race is still the hardest in the world. This race makes even the biggest rugby players cry!
So what kind of guy wins this kind of race? For the last three years, a small, gentle, friendly guy has won this race. His name is Bruce Fordyce.
In many ways Bruce Fordyce is like all the rest of us. He likes hamburgers. He likes reggae music. He likes a beer or two. And he likes a good party.
But when Bruce Fordyce runs, he is not like the rest of us. He runs like a true champion. He runs to win.
He was born in a far away place called Hong Kong 27 years ago. When he was very young, he moved from country to country with his parents. In 1969 his parents came back to South Africa. Bruce was 13 years old.
Bruce went to school in Johannesburg. He played some sport. He played a bit of football and rugby. He ran a bit. But he was no champion.
When Bruce finished school, he went to university. And for the next three years he played no sport at all. He studied a bit. And he sat around with his friends a lot.
Then one day Bruce went to play rugby match at his old school. He was not fit. After the game Bruce didn’t feel so good. He felt like he was going to die.
Bruce started to think. He decided that dying wasn’t such a good idea. Two weeks later, he saw the Comrades Marathon on television. He liked what he saw. “That’s it!” said Bruce to himself. “I’ve got to start somewhere!.”
So Bruce went for his first run. He ran around the block. But he didn’t get very far. He walked home – and he went straight to bed.
But Bruce did not give up. He ran everyday and he got stronger everyday. A year later, he ran in the Comrades Marathon. He ran very well. He came 43rd. Bruce felt good. Now he wanted to do better.
And he did do better. He came 14th in 1978, third in 1979, and second in 1980. “I never thought I could win the race until I came second,” says Bruce. “But after that race, I still felt so strong. I knew I could win. I suddenly began to believe in myself. I also learned something else. People can do things they don’t think they can do – and more.”
Bruce won the next three Comrades Marathons. And he ran these races in the fastest time ever. Nobody ever thought anybody could run the race so fast.
Bruce is not only a great runner. He also is a guy with lots of style. In 1981 the Comrades people made the race a special race. They made the race part of the Republic Day celebrations. Bruce did not agree with this. He didn’t understand why anybody wanted to remember Republic Day.
They hated the black armband – but cheered when he won
Bruce wanted to show the world he was not happy. So he put on a black cloth around his arm. Before the race, an old friend wanted to hit him. And when he ran, people threw tomatoes at him. They also insulted him.
But Bruce did not care. He ran like the wind. And he won the race in a record time. The people put their tomatoes away. They forgot about their insults. And they went home. What could they say?
Bruce is not scared to speak his mind. “Black and white people run together these days,” says Bruce. “But most black runners still have the same old problems. How can they train properly when they leave for work at 5 o’clock in the morning and come home at 8 o’clock at night?”
Those old guys in Natal must feel surprised. They never thought a guy like Bruce Fordyce would win their hardest race in the world. Just a small, gentle, friendly guy who believes in himself!