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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

Xolani Mabhida grateful for ibhele Nabangani's support as his athletes target SA 21km success

Where many coaches can recount in detail the happenings of some particular event three decades ago, Xolani Mabhida was only being born. You see at just 32 years old, the man is somewhat of a coaching prodigy having guided athletes to national titles and Comrades Marathon glory before he was even thirty years old. And after helping his runners to achieve even more success at the Harry Gwala Marathon on the 15th of May, Mabhida is expecting to soar to greater heights now that he enjoys the financial backing of ibhele Nabangani Consulting.

"I had to sacrifice my carrier as a runner because my area had no one who had enough information to coach and change the lives of other athletes," he tells #TheTopRunner when asked about how he became a coach. Hailing from Siphumelele township in the KwaZulu-Natal town of Howick, Mabhida started as an 800m athlete running with the likes of Two Oceans runner-up Nkosikhona Mhlakwana.

Mabhida and his athletes from Black Diamond AC and Excel AC celebrate success at the Harry Gwala District Marathon. Photo Credit: Xolani Mabhida.

"I prayed a lot those days and I said to God, ngiyanikela ngolwazi ukuze kusizakale abanye abantwana." His prayer for help in his community was answered when he was called to leave a promising middle distance career that had seen him represent South Africa at the 2007 IAAF World Youth Championships in the Czech Republic for coaching. He started working with a group of roughly fifty kids including SA 100m sprinter Phindile Kubheka, who had been training without much direction in Pietermaritzburg.

That was 2008. Within three short years he had already obtained his first national medal as a coach when he mentored the likes of Zola Sohkela and Mthokozisi Mazibuko to success at the ASA Senior Track and Field Championships. With his path clear, Mabhida enrolled to complete his coaching studies, obtaining his full qualifications by the time he was 26 years old. A year later, the 2019 KZN Athletics coach of the year led Bong'musa Mthembu to back-to-back titles at the Comrades Marathon and underlined his status as one of the best athletics coaches in the country.

Mabhida poses for picture with Nkosikhona Mhlakwana whom he ran with and trained when the pair were middle distance athletes. Photo Credit: Xolani Mabhida.

"Coaching started right after I realised how much I struggled as a runner because I was able to coach myself up to an international stage whereby I represented South Africa in the 800m. Then after realising that I struggled so much, that's when I came back to the township and started to coach. I like to solve problems, and when I realised how much our black people are struggling when it comes to coaching especially in my province in KZN, then that pushed me to solve this problem," explained the man who is also a firefighter.

But even though the success on the track and the roads came, one problem remained: how to fund his coaching when most of his athletes couldn't afford to pay. "The problem that I have encountered is that because I started coaching my first group for free, then other runners thought that I am a charity coach. They don't realise that you should be paid for that. But now that at least I have iBhele Nabangani who are paying me to coach these group of athletes that I have. The pressure is less than it was before."

Mabhida in conversation with Pakiso Mthembu (centre) and Sibusiso Kubheka (left) at a track meet at the Kings Park Stadium in Durban. A lot is expected of Kubheka at next week's ASA Half Marathon Championships. Photo Credit: Pakiso Mthembu.

Free from the financial pressures of everyday life, Mabhida is able to focus on producing the results. For example, Ayanda Ngcobo of Black Diamond Athletic Club defeated Ndumiso Sokhela of Excel AC by just a second a sprint finish to win the Harry Gwala District Marathon in 2:18:08 as Mabhida's athletes took first and second. At the same time, Sibusiso Kubheka took sixth place (2:49:56) as the first KZN athlete across the line at the Nedbank Runified Breaking Barriers 50km in March.

This financial support which his athletes share, also allows Mabhida to make sure his runners race sparingly. "One thing that I've always wanted to do was to choose races for athletes and not let athletes run everything because that's part of the problem if guys are racing every week. So now, that's what I am gonna do now. If you see uSibusiso Kubheka he hasn't been racing because there are only two races for the year. So that's what we are aiming for. This year we are going for SA Half Marathon," he concluded.

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