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  • Writer's pictureCharles Baloyi

Student athletes hit hard by lockdown

Middle-distance runner Milton Kekana is feeling the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. When fellow athletes smiled to the bank to withdraw the R20 000 relief funding handed out by the sports minister Nathi Mthethwa in July, Kekana got nothing because he got misinformed about the claiming process. “I did not receive the relief fund. I got the wrong information and ended up missing the submission date. The money would have made a huge difference in my life. I was angry at myself, but had no choice but to accept the situation for what it is,” he said.

Kekana receives an award at his alma mater TUT for his athletic achievements.

The Zebediela born runner did manage to apply for the provincial relief funding though, which could see athletes paid R6000 by Gauteng MEC for Sport Mbali Hlophe any day now. It means that the only funds Kekana has received since the start of the lockdown in March is R3000 which was paid to him by Athletics Gauteng North some weeks ago. For the soft-spoken runner, the lockdown was the most frustrating period of his life, but he has vowed to soldier on and complete his diploma. "The biggest lesson that I have learned is that I have to complete my diploma so that I don’t rely on running,” said the 25-year old is a second-year Logistics Management at the Tshwane University of Technology.

The 2019 World Student Games 10000m champion got frustrated by attending zoom classes during the lockdown. But he is happy that students ended the year by returning physical classes. “We started attending physical classes at the beginning of November. Zoom is a no-no for me. There are a lot of challenges you experience network problems, and it can get frustrating. I don’t like on-line tests and classes,” said Kekana.

Kekana in action at last year's World Student Games in Italy.

The 2018 TUT sportsman of the year clocked 29:29:43 to win the 10000m race at the Student Games in Napoli, Italy. He said his triumph at the Games is the biggest highlight of his athletics career. Kekana is studying at TUT through NSFAS sports bursary, but has used his burgeoning athletics career to supplement his income. His last competitive race was on 22 March in a 21km race in Centurion. “I lost income and don’t have a sponsor. I would have competed in Poland, SA 10km, SA 21km, USSA championships, and the SA cross country championships, and other local races," he said. Kekana was also named in South Africa's World half-march championship team to compete in Poland, but was unable to take advantage of the opportunity when athletes were left to pay their own way if they wanted to compete.

Kekana pictured at the Or Tambo International Airport upon arrival from the 2019 Summer Universiade in Italy where he won gold in the 10 000m. Photo Credit: Tshegofatso Kekana.

He is coached by World Championship 4 by 400m bronze medalist Hendrick Mokganyetsi, and the two have a healthy working relationship. When he is not training or at school, Kekana spends most of his time indoors enjoying his PlayStation. He said he has learned a lot in his three years working with Mokganyetsi. Kekana is hoping to qualify for the Tokyo, Japan Olympic Games next year in the 5000m and 10000m. His personal best in the 10000m is 28:42 and in the 5000m is 13:54. “I have not given up on my dreams of qualifying for the Olympics. I have dedicated the next year towards qualifying for the Games,” he added.

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