“Nothing’s going to stop me.” An athlete’s enduring spirit in the face of HIV

 
 
 

Evelina Tshabalala began the race of a lifetime the day she moved to Cape Town in search of work. With a young child to take care of, 4am was the only time she had to go running. Before long, her pursuit revealed her athletic prowess. Barefoot, Tshabalala ran her first professional 10-kilometre race – and won. That afternoon, she entered a five-kilometre race. She won that too. With the prize money she could finally afford a pair of running shoes. Shortly after, Tshabalala began competing in long-distance races. She completed the London Marathon, placing 25th. With her insurmountable energy, Tshabalala then turned to the gruelling challenge of mountain climbing, and summited three of the world’s highest peaks. The fact that she’s HIV-positive has never held her back.

It was only years after she began racing that Tshabalala felt herself growing weaker and received her diagnosis. “I was thinking my life is finished,” she says. “But I said no. Still I can run.” Tshabalala began ARV treatment, and got her life back on track. “Nothing’s going to stop me,” she says. To demonstrate that the disease can be managed, Tshabalala co-founded the organisation Positive Heroes, shining a spotlight on role models like herself who live with HIV. Together with their ultra-marathon team, she completed demanding races such as the 89-kilometre Comrades Marathon and the Two Oceans Marathon. Tshabalala’s perseverance is breathtaking. She has climbed Mount Elbrus and Mount Aconcagua, the world’s second highest peak. After summiting Kilimanjaro, Tshabalala met Nelson Mandela, who saluted her determined spirit.

Tshabalala currently lives in Joe Slovo Park in Cape Town. Despite not having much, she gives all that she can by going running with the children of the community. “Sport is an easy way to take the kids from the streets,” Tshabalala says. As she runs, she leads her pack down a path of resilience. Yet she barely breaks a sweat. Tshabalala’s rippling muscles are the physical embodiment of her mental fortitude. Unleashing her inner power, she’s an inspiration to her community, and her country. “We find strength in ourselves,” Tshabalala says. “Only then can we use the positive, radiant light to help others.”