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  • Mosibodi Whitehead

"Barry was a very humble person, dedicated to serving other people" - Craig Dennill

What can be more motivating as we embark on another journey around the sun, than the story of a man who died trying. Loved and admired for his 39 years of service to road running and the Comrades Marathon, the late Barry Varty will probably be best remembered for embodying the spirit of the Ultimate Human Race through his never-say-die attitude. You see even though the holder of permanent number 616 completed twenty consecutive Comrades Marathon journeys and 28 in total, he struggled to finish the race during his later years but kept on trying.


Permanent Number 616 smiles as he completes his 25th Comrades Marathon. Photo Credit: Dean Wight.

With his last successful finish (11:55:44) coming in the year 2011, his subsequent attempts to complete his beloved Comrades were either DNF (did not finish), DNS (did not start) due to not meeting the Comrades Marathon’s strict qualifying criteria; and in some instances, finishing after the 12-hour cut-off, which does not constitute an official Comrades finish. But his unyielding tenacity inspired those around him.


Some of the runners that took part in the 8,25km run in celebration of Varty's life. Photo Credit: INSTAPIX.

So much so that over 300 runners and walkers turned up to honour the former Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) Chairman's life by running and walking 8,25km to celebrate the over 82 years that uMkhulu lived. Those in attendance included club mates from his beloved Yellowwood Park and Hillcrest Villagers Athletic Club, other surrounding Durban clubs, current CMA Chairperson Mnqondisi Ngcobo and Barry Holland who holds the joint record for the most number of Comrades medals (47).


Current CMA Chairperson Mnqondisi Ngcobo also run the 8,25km memorial run. Photo Credit: INSTAPIX.

"Barry was blessed with a running build. Lightweight, light in stature with incredible stamina," said long time friend and fellow Bergville Marathon runner Craig Dennill. "Barry ran for the pure enjoyment of it. He always had time to stop and chat to people whether they were volunteers, referees, marshals and fellow runners. He just bounced along. Most of all Barry was the most pleasant and most friendly, he ran for the love of running," he said of the man who also pioneered many firsts including the much-loved historical photo gallery that is on display at every Comrades race expo.


Varty completing a record 43rd Bergville Marathon. Photo Credit: Rob Varty.

Ultimately it was Varty's humility that was his most endearing quality. To put himself through training year after year even with a double green number, while refusing to rest on his litany of achievements speaks volumes of the character of the man.


"Barry was a very humble person, dedicated to serving other organisations and other people. He always put other people first. Barry dedicated half his life to ensuring that people knew where Comrades came from that it was a commemoration of those who fell in the wars. He was very, very dedicated and passionate about making sure that the history of Comrades was preserved," he concluded.


Event organiser Dean Wight (on the phone) of Beloved Long Runs was overwhelmed with the support they got for the Barry Varty Memorial Run. Photo Credit: INSTAPIX.

Through the efforts of Dennill and the hundreds of the other runners who took part in the memorial run on Saturday, over R8000 was raised which is all thanks to the organisational hard work of Dean Wight and his team at Beloved Long Runs. The money will be donated to Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust (HACT) which is an official Comrades Marathon charity.

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