Mthembu lands new car sponsor
South African ultra-marathon sensation Bongumusa Mthembu hopes his eye-catching achievements on the road over the past decade will inspire upcoming black athletes to believe that their dreams are possible. The Bulwer born athlete has been a dominant force on the local ultra running scene and even flew the SA flag on the world stage when he took silver at the 2016 IAU World 100km Championships.
Sponsors are also sitting up to take notice of the three time Comrades Marathon winner's accomplishments. In December he landed a sponsorship deal with Pietermaritzburg Fury Suzuki. The deal is all the more impressive given the challenging economic times faced in the country and across the globe by many corporates are facing as a result of the havoc wreaked by the Coronavirus. But Mthembu is not surprised that he continues to attract commercial partners even during a recession saying he deserves the recognition because of his dedication, passion, and hard work.
"I think my achievements speak for themselves. Truth must be told that " says an adamant Mthembu. "I wonder if it's fair for people to be surprised that I have managed to secure a sponsorship deal. If I wasn't a black athlete, would you not be paying much respect to me? Based on the fact that I'm the record holder (South Africa 100km) and I have managed to win Comrades Marathon on more than one occasion," he explains.
"As black athletes, we are still behind compared to other races. This is a victory not for me but for all my brothers and sisters. And I hope upcoming black athletes shall be motivated and inspired by seeing what I have achieved over the years and follow in my footsteps," he adds. With CoronaVirus affecting many businesses, Massmart Group has decided to pull out of running sponsorship and closed down their club lead by Comrades champion Ann Ashworth. But Mthembu, who runs in the colors of Arthur Ford sees the shut down of Massmart Athletics Club as nothing new. "I always say this. If you look at the past five years then you would realize that some of the big clubs have closed. " elaborates the 37-year old. "This isn't about Massmart only. I'm talking about big clubs. It has become a trend. At first, we saw the closure of Liberty Life then Harmony Gold followed shortly. So I always encourage athletes nowadays not to jump or be excited to run for a certain club. But rather build your brand and hope for a cooperate company to use you in its marketing purposes or strategy," he counsels. Mthembu began 2020 with the bang winning Capital City Marathon in February as the build-up preparations for Comrades Marathon. But his quest for the fourth Comrades Marathon crown was derailed as the race was canceled due to the CoronaVirus outbreak. And he says he is still doing well financially even though he lost out on a lot of prize money last year.
" To see Comrades Marathon being canceled last year was heartbreaking to many as most athletes love to run that race. But I have learned a lot through my time as an athlete. I wasn't affected financially as you know that I'm not living a flashy life. I haven't changed and I still maintain the same lifestyle. But to see a race that you have run for over 10 years being canceled is hard to take. At the same time, we must respect the situation we were facing and now still facing as Covid19 is still around. Let's obey the rules and hope that the situation change in the future." Despite those challenges, Mthembu's spirits were lifted late last year when his annual training run between two villages from Bulwer and Impendle attracted scores of runners. He was encouraged to see the people obeying CoronaVirus protocols. "The training run was a success. And runners came in numbers even though we had to limit the number as per restrictions. I think most athletes have recognized the importance of this training run and how useful it can be.I was so surprised by the way people from my community managed to obey the rules," he said.
It's still not clear whether the races will happen this year but for the former Two Oceans Marathon winner is staying fit and prepared for any eventuality. "I can't say which races I'm willing to run. But I haven't stopped training. If I train I set the target that I want to reach at a certain time. But without races, it's hard to measure how far I am. I train to keep myself fit physically. It's also crucial to remain mentally strong during these times and be ready for anything. My main focus is to do what I love and to train for anything that might come."