South African runner jets in for Virgin London Marathon

PUBLISHED: 10:58 14 April 2011

From left, Andrew Norton, Simon Noksi, Clare Thompson, Alison Whitfield and Jason Meyrick

From left, Andrew Norton, Simon Noksi, Clare Thompson, Alison Whitfield and Jason Meyrick

Archant

A POPULAR Saffron Walden teacher has sparked an international fundraising and awareness project – arranged in time for Sunday’s Virgin London Marathon.

Sue Westgarth, a teacher at Friends’ School, died of Motor Neurone Disease in October.

But her memory will be kept alive this weekend thanks to a Zulu runner who has travelled 6000 miles to take part in the 26.2-mile event.

South African Simon Nkosi, who has never left his home country before, jetted into the area this week. He will be pounding the capital’s streets to raise money for the Cambridgeshire branch of the Motor Neurone Disease Association, which helped Sue during her battle with the condition.

His visit was arranged by branch vice-chairman Andrew Norton.

“This amazing project hopes to top £3000 to benefit people with MND and will undoubtedly raise awareness of this devastating disease both locally and in South Africa,” said Mr Norton.

“It is very much in memory of Sue. The branch has received great backing from the committee and we have come to know them very well.”

Speaking about Simon’s visit, he added: “My wife Christine and I are regular visitors to South Africa and we have built up a long-standing friendship with Simon.

“He has long since dreamed of visiting the UK, but like so many people in Africa, it is beyond his capability to fund such a project.

“We knew of his passion for running and we just thought it would be fantastic to get him here to run in the marathon.”

For Simon, who has a Zulu background, the trip has been bit of a culture shock.

“It is very different here,” he told the Reporter. “We don’t have double-storey buildings where I come from. And it is so clean and tidy for a rural area.

“Everyone has been very welcoming. I am very happy to be here – and I am very much looking forward to Sunday.”

Simon’s employers, together with sportswear firm New Balance, and the Sun City resort where he works as a lifeguard, have all stepped in to help with his travel, kit and costs.

And despite being a seasoned marathon runner in his home country, Simon has been getting training tips from Wilburs and WaldenTri Club coach Clare Thompson, a close friend of Sue.

“Simon has done a lot of long distance running and marathons in South Africa but has never run in front of crowds of people or focused his training,” explained Mrs Thompson, who won Coach of the Year in the Saffron Walden Reporter Sports Awards.

“I have also been telling him about the day itself, which can be quite confusing.”

On Sunday, Mrs Thompson will be waiting in The Mall, less than a mile from the finishing line, to cheer on her pupil and hand him a South Africa flag for the home straight.

“He is very proud of his roots and wants to run the final leg with the flag,” she said. “It has been very humbling and a privilege to work with him.”

A keen runner herself, Sue ran 15 marathons and was affectionately known as ‘the running teacher’ after forming successful running clubs and inspiring children of all abilities.

Several charity events were held to raise funds for both Sue and the Cambs branch of the MNDA, including a cello recital concert, a parent-led fun run – the Great Westgarth Run, which raised more than £15,000 – and a ladies lunch which brought in an impressive £1700. Sue used the money to fulfil her dream of swimming with dolphins in Florida.

Alison Whitfield of the Westgarth Committee said: “It is lovely to have Simon here and it is fantastic that he is running for MNDA. The Cambridgeshire branch was such a help to Sue.”

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