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Op-eds

Why is this marathon different from all others?

  • BenitaLevin
I’ve had the pleasure of watching many marathons in different parts of the world. To be clear, in most cases I’ve attended as a spectator or “cheerleader”, egging on runners along the route, especially my husband and twin sister.
by BENITA LEVIN | Mar 15, 2018

Their respective “fun” races over the years have taken us from South Africa’s premier long-distance race, the gruelling 89km Comrades marathon in KwaZulu-Natal, to the scenic Two Oceans marathon in Cape Town and the more recent Tiberius marathon along the beautiful Lake Kineret in the north of Israel.

Many years ago, as a young radio news reporter, I even covered the Comrades race from a hot air “blimp”. I get goosebumps just thinking of the sight of thousands of runners from above – people of all ages tackling the famous KwaZulu-Natal Midlands hills within the 12-hour deadline.

Why, then, is the Jerusalem Marathon so special? Was it because our son took on the 10km race for the first time, with his dad? Of course, that’s a moving sight for any proud mom, but it wasn’t just that. Was it the sight of 35 000 athletes from all over the world taking on the hilly course through parts of the Old City of Jerusalem, passing a range of historic landmarks on a route through 3 000 years of history? True, that is an incredible sight, but we’ve had the pleasure of coming to the marathon before. So, why does this year feel different?

A running warrior’s survivor goal

The first reason that this year’s Jerusalem Marathon – which took place on March 9 – was so special, was being able to witness the strength and determination shown by the inspiring South African cancer warrior, Brenda Stern. A year ago, while undergoing chemotherapy, Brenda made a deal with a friend that she was going to “kick cancer’s butt” and compete in the 10km race at the Jerusalem Marathon. She called her first ever 10km race her “survivor goal”.

Brenda joined a large contingent of runners from South Africa, who took on the race on behalf of the DL Link to raise money for cancer patients. DL Link is a Johannesburg-based organisation offering support to cancer patients and their families through effective programmes, activities and services.

Brenda finished her treatment on December 1 and started training for the race in January. She had never run a race before!

Each athlete ran in a shirt with the name of a member of the organisation, in the same way that one of the South African runners at last year’s race ran with the name ‘Brenda’ on his shirt. With the motto, “When your legs can’t run anymore, run with your heart”, these runners in red could be spotted all along the route.

Brenda’s achievement was particularly close to home for all who know her. She exudes positive energy and “koach” (strength). She is a real-life Wonder Woman.

Through the eyes of Olim Chadashim

The second reason that this year’s marathon was so different from all others, is the fact that we were experiencing it for the first time as Olim Chadashim (new immigrants). In previous years, we’d taken part as tourists, keen to get a shwarma at a popular spot nearby as soon as the race was over!

This time, we felt like hosts of sorts, able to welcome and cheer along all the athletes, feel proud of the winners from Kenya and cheer on the scores of runners seen pushing friends in wheelchairs up the hills of the Old City.

We got to share stories with a South African family who are in the country for a one-year experience or adventure, and watch scores of runners from all over the globe take on a tough race in the name of a charity or cause that means the world to them.

And that feels like something new, unique and memorable.

Smile of the week…

Driving into Jerusalem ahead of the marathon and seeing flags from all over the world lining the streets. Watching our children cheer when they spotted the South African colours.

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