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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

'Its an opportunity for people to showcase their talent' - Fortress Running Series Sterkspruit

"As my father used to say 'Run until you catch the wind,'" those are some of Tshepiso Khati's most treasured memories of growing up in the shadow of the Maluti Mountains. Yet as joyful as his childhood was, after completing Matric in 2016, Khati left his village of Naledi in Nkopane on the outskirts of Sterkspruit. The rural Eastern Cape town which borders on Lesotho had been all that he had known up until then, but his love for running forced him to move to Johannesburg in search of more athletic opportunities.

The start of the 2022 Fortress Running Series race in Sterkspruit. Photo Credit: Fortress Running Series.

"I've always had a passion for running since primary school," he told #TheTopRunner. "So I came to Joburg to pursue that dream because back at home there was a lack of support and opportunities to grow ourselves when it comes to running as it ends in school. So as much as we have soccer tournaments and leagues at home the aim was to build my self enough to be able to part of such events in running," said the man who runs while working as a personal trainer through his business called Field Fitness.

The events that the 26-year-old speaks of are road running events - races to be specific. Like the thousands of talented athletes scattered amongst the many rural and peri-urban areas of South Africa, Khati found that he would have to move to the big city in order to fully express his talent. But it was thanks to a race staged in his hometown that he was even discovered in the first place.

Khati completing the 2022 Fortress Running Series 21km race at the Sterkspruit Plaza. Photo Credit: TFortress Running Series.

"We didn't exactly run close to my community but ran around the town and nearby neighbourhoods. I ran a few races at home including the Tele Bridge race which was one of the biggest races we had back then and that's where I showcased my running talent and was spotted by Mr. Israel Morake who was my mentor and coach back then," said the man who now runs in the colours of Old Eds Athletics Club.

But Morake's commitment to developing top runners from rural areas didn't end with his guidance of the man who won the 2023 Vitality Series Randburg Harriers Challenge 21km race and also represented Central Gauteng Athletics after training alongside the likes of Precious Mashele. Being from Sterkspruit himself, Morake a former winner of the Two Oceans Marathon, decided to partner with Fortress Retail Real Estate to start the Fortress Running Series which takes races to the country's rural areas. Khati who will be running the Fortress Running Series race in his hometown on Sunday 8 October as he did last year, says one cannot underestimate the talent identification role that such initiatives play.

"For someone who comes from the village and ran a race in my hometown, it was amazing and what I liked is that it attracted all the local talents we have and gave opportunities for people back at home to showcase themselves and their capabilities. The route was not easy or hard but challenging enough for runners to prove themselves. We had local aerobics and music performances to entertain the crowd which is something beautiful for a local race and well organized."

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