The Eastern Province team heading to the South African Cross Country Championships on Saturday 8 September has taken a distinctly local flavour, with a large number of Kowie Striders and other Grahamstown (Makhanda) runners making the squad.
The Kowie Striders running club have a large contingent of seven runners in the EP squad, with six of them coming from their development runners group. These seven runers include Avril Byleveld, Rebecca Nelson, Sizakele Dayimani, Mpo Nxabazi, Sticks Stiglingh (Kowie Striders’ chairperson), Aya Saul and Lithemba Jekana.
The development runners programme was started two years ago, by the newly appointed chairperson at the time, Stiglingh, and Lungi Matsatse, a disabled runner and member of the Kowie Striders club.
Out of the total 40 members in the small Kowie Striders running club, 14 are active in the developmental runners group; and six of the 14 have made it into the EP squad.
The runners who form part of this group train with Stiglingh on Tuesdays (time trials) and Thursdays (general training). In addition to these two training sessions, individual runners take personal responsibility to improve their running.
Stiglingh, who is still the chairperson of the Kowie Striders, is incredibly proud of his runners. “[It is] absolutely awesome,” said Stiglingh. “As a coach, I cannot even start to explain how proud I am of these guys. I only see them twice a week, so they have to go and do the rest by themselves.”
The runners from Kowie will be joined in the squad by local runners Terri-Lynn Penney and Jene Banfield. Both Penney and Banfield have been training very hard for the race, and are looking forward to representing their province on the national stage.
“It is only my second time representing EP in the SA Cross Country Champs,” said Penney. “I am preparing as normal… just adding more speed and hill sprints, and adding a lot more running on grass and off road.”
“I am definitely looking forward to taking part in the SA Champs,” said Banfield. “But I am also quite nervous, as the athletes from other provinces are very competitive and talented.”