Muzhingi's gratitude to Magwaza

HARARE - Laying flowers on the grave of a man who brought him to stardom was not enough tribute for ultra-marathon ace and serial Comrades Marathon winner Stephen Muzhingi.

The only befitting honour was for him to marry the daughter of the late Esau Magwaza, a former top Zimbabwe long distance runner.

Every time he sees the smile on her face and the fruits of the relationship; three sons — Methane (9), Ethane (5) and Kiane (3) — he is reminded of how instrumental his trainer and father in-law was to his career.

“Through marathon running, I have managed to buy three houses but most importantly I married my beautiful wife through the sport,” Muzhingi told the Daily News.

“Upon the realisation that the person who trained me to run, who took me out of all the poverty that I was faced against had I not taken athletics seriously, had passed on; there was no amount of flowers on his grave that would show how truly grateful I was for the work he did to get me to the very top of international sport.

“So a better way for me to express how grateful I was, I thought was to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage and I can proudly state that I eventually got married to Erina Magwaza the daughter of the late athletics legend as a way of thanking him.

“Even when I got married, I didn’t feel like I was paying lobola, instead I was just giving back to the Magwazas for what their late father did in shaping my career.

“He’s the one who trained and sponsored me and even prescribed the programme that I’m still using to date which has made me win the Comrades Marathon so that’s what I did as part of my tribute and respect for the man who helped shape my dream.”

Muzhingi won the 89km Comrades Marathon in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa three times consecutively between 2009 and 2011.

The following year, 2012 he won the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town South Africa as he extended his dominance across the Limpopo.

“At school I loved playing football but the challenge with soccer is that you have to be extremely good with individual brilliance in order to complement the rest of the team,” Muzhingi said.

“A lot of guys were very good in soccer, I was not lazy but had difficulties making it in the squad and the moment I switched to athletics, I would see it was very easy making it in the team winning the 1 500m, 3 000m and 5 000m as an individual.

“So I realised that I was very good in this sport. There was this man who came and delivered a motivational speech at school; Magwaza.

“He was a Zimbabwean top athlete, he came to our school when I was in Grade Six and told us that there’s life in sports particularly in athletics. We had read about him in a book while still in Grade 5.

“He said whoever makes it in athletics should come to Harare, get a job and be trained in athletics. So to us it was a big deal coming from a rural background and getting an opportunity to go to Harare and on top of that getting a job and travel around the world representing the country; we believed his words and started taking the sport seriously.”

Magwaza was a genius who would run a distance of 51km from Wazvaremhaka to Chivhu faster than the local community buses as part of his rigorous training regime.

While in Grade 7, Muzhingi started following Magwaza’s strict training methods which ultimately took him top of the world.

“I wanted to see how far it was from my area to Chivhu; I boarded a bus and discovered that it was very much possible to run to Chivhu because I wanted to be like Magwaza and that’s what motivated me to take up marathon seriously,” he said.

“I started practicing the same routine and I would leave the bus parked at Chivhu going to Samaringa and would get there almost at the same time or even earlier than it.

“At school I never stopped training and it’s only the teachers and the headmaster who would remind me that athletics season was over but I continued training because I used to get calls to take part in several invitational races such as the Colgate Palmolive.”

Muzhingi used proceeds from these races to pay for his school fees.

“I remember pocketing $200 from one similar event and I took it to pay my fees. I used to do menial jobs to pay for my fees ever since I was in Grade 3,” he said.

“In 1995, I entered the Gutu Marathon junior category, won the race and I was presented with my cash prize by the late Vice President Simon Muzenda, came back home, cleared all my outstanding fees and from then on, I never looked back.”