This domestic worker outran poverty to finish the Comrades Marathon
Veronica Mtetwa presses the iron through the shirt with a practiced hand, the mundane task dulling her eyes. As her body switches to autopilot, her lines remain perfect. Mtetwa’s imagination takes over, sending her on the same journey it does every ironing afternoon… A stretch of highway materialises along a seam. The room fills with the steady crunch of feet on tar. Her cadence increases, as the road bends around a cotton collar. And, in a crescendo of emotion, Mtetwa flies over the finish line of the Comrades Marathon and straight back into the living room.
From within the seams of life as a domestic worker, the dream felt distant. But it was the only thing keeping her going. Over time reality began to wither away at the outline of Mtetwa’s vision. So she started to run. From reality. Towards the glory of South Africa’s showpiece road race. Mtetwa made a habit of beating the sun to the day each morning, starting with a novice two kilometre route that stretched and stretched until she attempted her first marathon. Multiple events later, the Comrades was hers. But by then her dreams had outrun it and morphed into something new. Mtetwa’s new ambition was to represent her country at the New York Marathon.
She saved all the money she could spare and trained harder than ever. But on New Year’s Eve calamity befell her family. Her mother was shot and admitted to hospital. Without a second thought, Mtetwa dug into her savings to cover the medical bills. Her mother recovered, and with the return of normality to Mtetwa’s life came the realisation that New York was quickly fading into fiction. There was nothing she could do. So she called for help. Inspired by the success of crowdsourced funding schemes she’d seen on Facebook, Mtetwa created a page to raise support to send her to America. The response so far has been overwhelming, especially from her employers, who bought her first pair of running shoes. South Africans have empathised with her story in a way that only the rainbow nation can. More help is needed. Mtetwa knows it will come.
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