As part of an on-going commitment to creating meaningful change in the lives of South Africans, Virgin Money, will send three runners to London to participate in the 2013 Virgin London Marathon.
This charitable initiative, undertaken in conjunction with Runner's World magazine, will give three talented athletes, hand picked from underprivileged communities, the chance to demonstrate their skills on one of the world's biggest stages.
Over and above being one of the most popular fixtures on the global marathon calendar, The Virgin London Marathon, which takes place on 21 April 2013, is also the world's largest charity event. Thousands of participants from around the globe are encouraged to run in support of a chosen charity, with this forming an obligatory condition of entry.
It was this charitable spirit that inspired Virgin Money's decision to create life-changing opportunities for local runners.
"The change that can come about as a result of an event like this is momentous, and we really wanted to play our part in extending this goodwill on a local level," explains Heidie Aitken, brand manager of Virgin Money. "Rather than running a lucky draw style competition as we did in 2011, we decided to embrace the essence of the event this year, and offer opportunities to those who might never have been able to participate otherwise."
First major international marathon for the athletes
This will be the first major international marathon for Khubulani Zondo, John Persents and Meshack Ndhlovu, who were selected from running clubs around the country based on the strength of their written motivations.
Khubulani Zondo, who grew up in Springs, has been running for the past seven years, and with a marathon best time of 2 hours and 42 minutes, is poised to excel in London. "After running the Soweto marathon a few years ago, I realised I had the potential to do well," says Zondo. "The London Marathon was always a dream for me, but I never thought I'd have the chance to participate. This is an incredible opportunity to fulfil one of my life's dreams, and to be a good example to my two kids."
John Persents, who hails from Belhar in Cape Town, looks to use this opportunity to inspire fellow athletes in his community. "Being part of the Virgin Money team will help me to show my fellow runners that anything is achievable with hard work and dedication," says Persents, who coaches would-be runners in his community, including his two sons. "The London Marathon is every runner's dream, and it's important for those of us in disadvantaged communities to know that dreams can come true."
With 13 Comrades medals and three Two Oceans finishes under his belt, Johannesburg-based Meshack Ndhlovu's journey to London will represent the culmination of a lengthy recovery process. "I spent two months in hospital in 1994 after being involved in a car crash, and have fought very hard to restore myself to full fitness," explains Ndhlovu. "This is an opportunity that I never thought possible, and I'm incredibly blessed to be able to take part in a global event like this."
Four days in London
The three athletes will spend a total of four days in London, during which time they will have the chance to experience the sights and the sounds of one of the world's most famous cities.
"We wanted to make sure that our runners have the opportunity to explore London, and we've devised an all-inclusive experience so as to ensure that it's an experience they'll never forget," explains Aitken. "This initiative is about so much more than running, it's an opportunity to see the world, and we intend to maximise the value of the four days our athletes will spend abroad."
Virgin Money's initiative is supported in part by Adidas, who will supply the team with running kits, and Runner's World magazine, whose deputy editor, Allister Arendse, will accompany the team to London. Virgin Active will also offer all three runners a complimentary three-month membership for training purposes.
"It's wonderful to have the support of these organisations, and to be able to work together to show that commitment and dedication can truly pay off," says Aitken.