South Africa 17 October: Cape Town
Torch Bearer award for running great, Elana Meyer
In an unprecedented year for the world throughout, our Peace Run team was invited to be part of a unique opportunity, the Sanlam Cape Town Virtual Marathon. Our Peace Torch and the message of peace that it conveys to all is a symbol that the organisers of the Cape Town Marathon also endeavour to promote through all their races, but particularly their 10km Peace Run. And we are proud to be associated with the ideals of peace through their various initiatives, including their running for change programme.
As members of the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run Team, we are happy to find ourselves travelling from our hometown of Johannesburg to Cape Town. We have been living in lockdown since March and we welcome the fresh expanse of open roads, cloudless blue skies and a landscape filled with predominantly ash-blonde grass, interspersed with low lying shrubs, a defining feature of the Karoo.
Here we take in the sights of the largest dam in South Africa, the Gariep Dam.
We camp for a night at the Gariep Forever Resort campsite. We are fortunate to step out of the hustle and bustle of city life to steep in the stillness of the evening and welcome the sounds of nature come alive through the call of crickets and the gentle hum of the wind through the leaves.
But how can we fail to mention the majesty of the evening sky in all its glory, the Milky Way! Balarka, our timelapse extraordinaire and camera boffin captures a glimpse in time for us. Magic!
Our view from our tents. Sunrise over the Gariep Dam and oh, how pristine and perfect a vision it is. Such clarity and symmetry in her water's reflection.
The distance between Johannesburg to Cape Town is approximately 1400km of which the most direct route is through the Karoo, a semi desert. In the days of yore, the early explorers trekked through this seemingly impenetrable and dry terrain experiencing extreme heat in the day and cold at night.
What piques our curiosity and conjures up our fascination driving through the Karoo is the site of water windmills. Such marvels of mechanical ingenuity! Where water is such a scarcity, here even the local shrubbery in its immediate perimeter seems to thrive, and the sheep not wandering very far too.
Licks of lilac flowers grow naturally in the foreground. It almost becomes a game and a moment of reverie to stop to photograph and capture these proud steel structures that provide life and sustenance to the local flora and fauna.
In our second night, we stay at a family-run farm and guesthouse in Sutherland. Due to its remote location in the Northern Province, it is famous for it's clear and darkest night skies. And for this reason, it is home to the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the largest single optical telescope in the southern hemisphere.
So it is only apt that we share an even more detailed photo of the Milky Way Galaxy. How can one not sit in awe; that all we know, our Earth and the planets and sun form a part and family of this vision. And all the billions of stars in orbit, their light having travelled light years to reach our eyes - a glimpse into the past, yet only fully beholden to us through the lens of a camera and telescope. In this time I think it gave us all a sense of peace knowing we are part of such vastness.
The orange light in the centre bottom of the photo is the light pollution from the city of Cape Town where we are heading to.
In the morning we head over to the escarpment to catch the sunrise at the boundary's edge of the farmhouse. In the distance, we can make out the road that winds its way through to the Tankwa Karoo National Park, known to be the aridest region of South Africa. Alas, our travels don't veer this way. An adventure we leave perhaps for another time...
Even in the dry and arid landscape of the Karoo, it is a marvel to see how flora still flourishes here. The dandelion, a symbol of emotional healing, is said to endure almost any living condition; they represent overcoming every hardship by standing strong and proud.
In this instance, the hotter the better for this lizard. It looks perched and ready to take on the new day.
Such friendly sitings along the way, our zebra friends have adapted to life in the harsh Karoo, and it seems with such ease.
An all too welcoming and familiar site, our team arrives in Cape Town, with the view of Table Mountain on the horizon.
In previous years the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon also hosted a 10km Peace Run. While under the current circumstances it was not possible to host the same run this year (except in a virtual format), the race organisers arranged a short Peace Walk along the promenade at Sea Point on Saturday the 17th October, and leading up to the Sanlam Cape Town Virtual Marathon (and other distances) the following day.
Here, well-known and well-loved ambassador of the marathon, Elana van Zyl (nee Meyer), alongside the Western Province Association representative, Jake Jacobs, light the Peace Torch ahead of our walk.
Here race director, Renee Jordaan, welcomes all present to the start of the walk. We are joined by Barry van Blerk (Cape Town Marathon General Manager) in the far left of the photo, along with the national news broadcaster, SABC, who cover the event. Thank-you Renee and Barry for your tireless efforts in hosting this event, and for embracing the ideals of peace so warmly and enthusiastically.
The Peace Run team has travelled through numerous countries and cities throughout the world and we feel privileged to come into contact with individuals who are an inspiration to those around them through their life's work and deeds. Here Abhijatri presents our friend, Elana van Zyl (nee Meyer), with the Peace Run's Torch Bearer Award, a prestigious award that has been given to some of humanity's most loved people since she stands as one of those individuals.
Elana is one of South Africa’s most outstanding and most celebrated sporting personalities who competed in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, South Africa's first Olympic Games since 1960. She is an Olympic silver medallist, who has held four world records and won both a world cup and the world half marathon titles. We don't feel that we can do proper justice to her longstanding running career in this short write-up but it's safe to say that it's well worth reading her bio and watching her epic run in the '92 Olympics. You won't be disappointed.
For us what was iconic of the race was the victory lap that Elana and race winner, Ethiopia’s Derartu Tulu ran together. And when we spoke to Elana later of this, she agreed and feels that everything worked out as it should have, since 28 years later, it is the victory lap that stands out in everyone's memory - a moment and metaphor for unity and shared victory and oneness in sport. Elana also ran with the Olympic flag, another symbol of unity and peace through sports.
Abhijatri shared that while Elana is known for her unparalleled sporting achievements the Torch Bearer award is to honour and recognise her achievements as a role model and doyenne in inspiring and touching thousands of lives of young people who need a positive role model, and to give them opportunities to realise their potential. She does this through Endurocad, her non-profit organisation, of which she is also a co-director. Using this platform Elana and her team aim to identify the next generation of talented endurance athletes and offers them a multi-faceted support programme.
We've come to know Elana over the 4 years that we have participated in the Cape Town marathon as someone who genuinely cares for each athlete as an individual. This was apparent for us each time she embraced a runner as if a long time friend or family member - such is her oneness with others. A quality that we hold in high regard, to see others as an extension of oneself. If we all acted similarly we feel that our motto of, "Peace begins with me" really is achievable.
Abhijatri shared with all present that Elana has been awarded the Peace Run's Torch Bearer award alongside other inspiring people who care about peace and oneness, which includes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Carl Lewis, Billie Jean King and Dr Davidson Hepburn, the past president of UNESCO.
Elana wasn't made aware beforehand that she'd be receiving the Torch Bearer award. Her visible and spontaneous joy in hearing that she was to receive this award was something special. She was genuinely touched and in her speech said, "This Peace award is something you cannot train for, you cannot line up and run against the best athletes in the world, which makes it really special." You might not have trained outwardly for it Elana, but we think you have lots of inner mettle to be an inspiration and guide for so many others. Keep going!
Elana takes a celebratory pose with the Torch, together with a handful of aspiring and talented athletes that have come through Endurocad. Included in the front left is Nolene Conrad, an Endurocad Alumni having achieved gold Label status at the World Half Marathon Championships in 2018. Gold Label status is the highest accolade assigned by International Athletics to elite athletes. She now works as an athlete manager at Endurocad to motivate and encourage and empower other athletes.
Here national news broadcaster, SABC, with presenter Vaylen Kirtley, hold an interview with Elana and Abhijatri.
Elana standing proud with the Peace Torch, the Torch Bearer Award medallion around her neck and her zebra stripe cape. The zebra, she explains, stands as a mascot and emblem for Endurocad, a uniquely African animal that can survive through the toughest conditions, and therefore a symbol of hope and strength against adversity.
Here Didi Durbach, a good friend of the Peace Run, and Elana hold the Peace Torch, together with Shree walking in the front beside them. Didi and her brother Jarred live in Cape Town now and we were very happy for them to join us on our team today.
Abhijatri and Elana with journalist Stephen Granger who wrote a very nice article on Elana receiving the Peace Torch Bearer award. Thank-you Stephen!
With some time available, the team spend the afternoon in Newlands Forest climbing up Newlands Ravine to Saddle Link. Here Abhijatri, Shree and Penny stopped to fill their water bottles from a trickling stream of mountain water. So quenching!