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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'I love the opportunities' - Nthatisi Mokhele believes SA has a lot of Race Walking talent

Despite the fact that team South Africa failed to bag a medal at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships in Oman a fortnight ago, there was much to celebrate. Wayne Snyman's 7th place finish out of 56 athletes in the men's 20km underlined his status as a world class athlete, while a young lady from one of the toughest townships in the country showed that athletics is still a powerful vehicle to change one's life. Born and bred in Orange Farm south of Johannesburg Nthatisi Mokhele was named as a team mangers for the championships saying it was a life changing experience for her.

Mokhele in action at the 2019 National Race Walking Championships in Pretoria. Photo Credit: Isabelle Grobler.

"To be honest I am overwhelmed and happy," she told #TheTopRunner of her stay in the Gulf. "It was my first international trip and having Chris Britz along as a Team manager was really good. He makes everything look doable, because I was always next to him while he was showing me everything and explaining so that I can learn how things done and why."

That Athletics South Africa (ASA) chose to trust the 28-year old with the responsibility of helping to manage a team comprising of seven of the nation's best race walkers says a lot about her knowledge of the sport. But the now sports coach started out as a runner and only got into race walking when she realised that she may have a better chance of succeeding as a walker than she had as a runner.

Mokhele finishes on the podium at the 2019 SA Race Walking championships. Photo Credit: Isabelle Grobler.

"It's funny how I started because it's because I used to see Lebogang Shange and Sanele Mathonsi training in Orange farm so I liked race walking because they were walking in a funny way, so in primary school I used to win medals while running but when I reached high school things started to get more challenging. There would be a lot of guys doing race walking especially from Kagiso Striders and just one lady Rose Shabalala. So I told my brother Surprise Mokhele who was also a runner that I could be number two if I can do race walking. I told my brother that I can train with Lebogang Shange and Sanele Mathonsi because we train on the same stadium, I said it jokingly but he took it serious and that's where everything started," she shared.

Mokhele poses with members of Team SA including Olympian Wayne Snyman at the World Athletics Race Walking Team Championships which took place in Muscat, Oman on 5 March 2022. Photo Credit: Nthatisi Mokhele.

But the real breakthrough which even saw Mokhele receive a sports bursary for her walking came when she met Brenda Wakfer who was at the time the chairperson of Central Gauteng Athletics' (CGA) Race Walking Commission. "There was a race in Lenasia hosted by Daxina Striders AC, and when myself and my brother got there he saw that already there are faster ladies than me so I wouldn't make the podium. He then entered me for 10km Walk," she laughs. "To be honest I took a risk and I did the 10km walk and I finished in the top three. That's where I met Brenda and never looked back."

Having furthered her education thanks to an opportunity she earned by being one of the few female race walkers, Mokhele now encourages township youngsters to use the sport as a springboard to a better life. "I love the community of it, meaning it's small and we all know each other. I love the opportunities through it, because after my high school, I even received a sports bursary where I studied a diploma in sports management. I would encourage them to go out there and look for other race walkers that are closer to them and start working for the right technique. I believe we have a lot of talent in South Africa, it's just that a lot of coaches mostly focus on running and not race walking," she concluded.

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