King David principal, an accomplished ‘sports junkie’
This four-time Comrades Marathon medallist is what she calls a “sports junkie”. She is also an accomplished swimmer who represented her province (then Transvaal) in the pool, and still gyms and runs when she is not running the school.
In 1991, Srage and three times Comrades champion Frith van der Merwe were part of the women’s team for Rockies who won the Gunga Din trophy (awarded to the winning team at Comrades). And as a member of staff at King David, she coached the hockey, swimming, and tennis teams.
Srage, who became principal in 2015 after being a history and physical education teacher for thirty years, has always loved sport. “The real influence for my love of sport was my dad. I became the son he never had because I was one of three daughters, so he schlepped me to rugby. I was always just part of his love of sport.” Her father, Fred, was part of the group that formed Rocky Road Runners (one of the oldest and most established running clubs in South Africa).
Srage started playing sport in primary school. “I got involved in swimming and that was my real love,” she says. “Then, at Waverley Girls High School, I played hockey and tennis, but swimming remained my main sport. I was fortunate to swim at provincial and national level.”
It required considerable commitment. “I don’t think I ever went away in the December holidays because that was the height of training since the championships were always in February.”
Srage, however, was never able to swim at the Maccabi Games as South Africa was excluded due to apartheid. But in 1975, when she was 16, she went on a goodwill tour to Israel with a group of Jewish and some non-Jewish scholars. “We stayed at the Maccabi Village, swum a little bit. It was probably one of my fondest memories.”
She swam through her time at the University of Witwatersrand. “I was lucky enough to be given half-blues for swimming at university, and my love for sport got me to major not only in history, but in physical education.”
Srage made good use of the latter qualification. “I coached a whole lot of sport such as swimming and hockey at King David, but I always had one foot in the academic classroom.”
Srage was already teaching when she started running. During her first Comrades Marathon in 1987, she ran with her father on a scorching hot day. “He couldn’t believe that he had to put up with all my moaning and groaning,” she says. “I had run a lot of road races, I had run Two Oceans Marathons and I was placed a few times, but I don’t think I ever really understood the enormity of the Comrades. From then on, the Comrades and road running just became part of who we were as a family.”
In her fourth Comrades in 1991, Srage demonstrated her true running ability with a time of seven hours, 48 minutes, 32 seconds, which was just less than 49 minutes slower than the time recorded by that year’s fourth-place finisher, Diana Terreblanche.
Because Srage ran into her shoes, she often took them off to find her nails “absolutely exploding” and needed to have the nails cut in order to release the blood.
“After one Comrades, I remember somebody said to me, ‘I have never seen a worse pair of feet. You shouldn’t run to a sandal sale.’” But Srage has since hung up her Comrades trainers. “I think, with commitments, to run the Comrades would be a bridge too far.”
You will often find Srage at rugby and cricket stadiums as a spectator. “I love sport and follow it, and I still love exercise. Given the constraints of this job, I keep as fit as I can but, to be honest, I’m not doing enough exercise any longer.”
In her younger days, Srage admired the likes of nine-time Olympic swimming champion Mark Spitz; World Golf Hall of Fame inductee Gary Player; former top-ranked doubles tennis-player Ilana Kloss, and any women who ran the Comrades.
Srage’s leadership skills captured the attention of then Maccabi SA chairperson, Raymond Hack, who in 2005 appointed her as head of junior delegation for the South African team at the Maccabi Games.
“I felt like I was on a giant ulpan. But it was perhaps the most magnificent experience to see a stadium full of Jewish athletes from all over the world. Even when I think about it now, I get goose bumps.”
But Srage’s real love is school sport, “which when played well, is fantastic”.
“If I look at the students who are involved in sport in this school, they are balanced kids who have time for everything. They understand what it means to work in a team and play fair.”
At 60, she looks forward to more balance between sport and academia.