The Nashua Marathon is a big race which people run every year in Johannesburg. The race is very hard. People must run 42 kilometres — from Wemmer Pan, right round the city and back again.
Thousands of people run in this race — from famous stars like Mark Plaatjies and Zithulele Sinqe to old, fat grandpas and little, skinny grannies. You can see everyone puffing up the hills and limping down the other side.
But this year there were new people running in the race. Blind runners from the Jardine Joggers Association ran for the first time. Johnny Demas was one of the blind runners. Johnny spoke to Learn and Teach.
THE BLIND HELP THE BLIND
“We are part of the Jardine Joggers,” said Johnny. “The Jardine Joggers Association is a special club for blind runners. There are about forty runners from the Jardine Joggers running in the race this year.
“We are running in this race because we want to make money for the South African Guide Dogs Association. They train dogs to help the blind. But it costs about R5 000 to train each dog.
“Each blind runner will be paid for every kilometre they run. But they will not keep this money for themselves. They will give it to the Guide Dogs Association so that more blind people can have dogs to help them.”
THE JARDINE JOGGERS
Learn and Teach wanted to know how the Jardine Joggers started. So we spoke to Dennis Tabakin. Dennis is a small, friendly man with a big smile. And for a long time, he has been the main man working with blind runners.
“About eight years ago, we started the Jardine Joggers Association for blind runners, here in Joburg” said Dennis. “Ian Jardine was a famous blind runner. He was the first blind man to run the long Comrades Marathon . So we named the association after him.”
FINDING BLIND RUNNERS
“When we started, we made a tape about the Jardine Joggers and gave it to an organisation called ‘Tape Aids for the Blind’. They lend tapes to blind people so that they can listen instead of reading.
“One guy borrowed our tape from Tape Aids. He was interested so he phoned us. He also told some of his blind friends about us.
”We also went to centres for blind people. We spoke to people there. And we advertised in a magazine for blind people. That is how we started.
“Since then we have grown a lot. We now have about 75 blind members all over the country. And today there are branches of the Jardine Joggers in Lesotho, Pietersburg, Durban, Piet Retief and Welkom.
”We do not want blind people to think that we feel sorry for them. I love running and I want to share my love of running with others. I also think that it is important that people see blind people as people, just like themselves.”
“When blind people run, they need someone who can see to run with them. We call these people ‘pilots’. The blind person ties some string around his hand. Then he ties the other end to the runner who can see. The pilot can then lead the blind person while they are running.
“When a blind person phones us and says that he or she wants to run, we try to find a ‘pilot’ for them. We phone a running club close to them, and ask one of them to run with the blind person.
“Most runners like to help. But there are some who say that running with a blind person slows them down. But you must talk to David. David could not find a pilot to run with him.”
TRAINING WHEN YOU CAN’T SEE
Dennis took us to meet David and David told us how he trains. I began training for this race three months ago,” said David. “I knew if I was going to run in the Nashua Marathon, I had to run at least 16 kilometres three times a week.
“So I got four little boys. I told them to stand on the corners of four roads so that they made a big square. I ran with the one boy for a few kilometres. By the time we reached the next boy, the first one was tired. Then I ran with the next boy to the next corner. I went on like that until I had done 16 kilometres.”
THE BIG RACE
When Learn and Teach spoke to the blind runners before the marathon, they were very nervous. But the next day, at the race, they showed people what they could do. Johnny Demas finished the race in four hours and twenty four minutes. He was faster than hundreds of the other runners.
The other blind runners did not do as well as Johnny. But each and every blind runner made it to the finishing line, with shouts from their supporters to help them along. They ran in the sun. They sweated and they struggled. But they made it.
SORE BUT PROUD
After the race everyone was tired and sore. But everyone felt proud of themselves for finishing. Johnny was especially excited.
Johnny said “This is just the begining for me. In 1987 I will be running the Comrades Marathon— one of the longest road races in the world. And that’s a promise.”
Learn and Teach was sorry to leave the blind runners. We wished them luck for the future. And when we left, we felt that we had learnt something from these brave people who let nothing stand in their way
If you know of anyone who wants to join the Jardine Joggers, write to them at: P.O. Box 6610 JOHANNESBURG 2001