A trail running story that inspired a whole community

Through running Thabang Mabida hopes to end the cycle of poverty in his hometown in South Africa

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you practice a sport of some sort. Whether that may be competitively, or just for fun, there’s also a good chance that you know how much dedication, time, and energy it takes to train in that sport. Now extrapolate that to competing in that sport at an international level. And finally, imagine having to do that in parallel of being the sole breadwinner for your entire family. That’s the life of the incredible Thabang Madiba, a three-time South African trail running champion, whose swift, remarkable stride is making waves in the SA trail community.

Salomon latest film from their trail running series casts the spotlight onto a pivotal member of their elite running team, a figure who has played a major role in growing the trail running scene in South Africa. Notably, Thabang is the first black South African to represent the country in the sport of trail running, and has been instrumental in bringing running and all of its positive benefits to the crime and poverty stricken townships. 

The movie sheds light on the remarkable athlete’s modest childhood and his introduction to running. He reminisces: “my grandmother bought me a pair of cheap sneakers. They were leather sneakers with a hard sole. That’s when I started running. In the morning, in the afternoon, to and from school. When I was angry, I would run, if I was sad, I would run and cry. It helped me so much. I think [without running] my life would be messed up, especially in this community.” Thabang candidly discusses growing up in poverty and being fiercely driven by the desire to change his circumstances for the better, a force that moulded him to give his all in everything he did. For him, running was his ticket to a better life for both him, and his family, as well as breathing life and hope into the community in his township. 

Thabang also makes a poignant commentary on the barriers of entry and the accessibility to sports for people without means of transport and no access to the trails. He recounts having to cycle incredible distances just to be able to toe the start line. His Salomon teammate Ryno Griesel says “he’d be that guy who’s late to the start of a race, and we’d already have started running, and he’d have to rush, jump off his bike, get his shoes on. He would be the guy coming from behind and still win the race.” His team manager at Salomon describes just how many more barriers Thabang has faced throughout his career, yet has stepped up to every opportunity that has arisen in the face of adversity.

The emotionally raw film captures the true essence of grit and resilience that helped a young boy in a South African township to turn his fate around and become one of the world’s greatest trail runners determined to make a positive change to the system from within.

See Thabang’s story on the big screen at the 2020 Banff Mountain Film Festival Tour of Australia.  Secure your seats here: https://banffaustralia.com.au/tickets/

Words:  Celeste Botton
Images: from the film Thabang

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