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by Michelle Carnegie
21 September 2017

She finished 3rd South African and 13th female at this year’s Cape Town Marathon and has a running pedigree of note. But what is even more remarkable about Ntombesintu Mfunzi is how she has used running to deal with major emotional trauma in her life.

Ntombesintu’s story is a story like no other; after being raped on her way to a running race, she got up the very next morning and lined up at the race, winning it for a 3rd consecutive time. And in doing so Ntombi (as she is known to friends) chose to be a victor and not a victim. It was the first step in choosing life and rising above what had happened to her. Through this whole journey running played a major part in her healing process, says Ntombi. 
“I decided to not let the situation take control of me and to rather rise above it. Yes he raped me.  There was nothing I could do about that, but he did not change the person I am. He did not take away my physical abilities, and so I decided to focus on the good things in my life and the talent that God has given me. I decided to fight this battle the only way I knew how: through running. I knew that was the only way I could heal and contuine with my life,” says Ntombi, who finished Sunday’s Cape Town Marathon in a time of 2:51.36.

With a 10km PB of 34.35, a 5th place finish (3:52.38) at this years Two Oceans Ultra Marathon and running the 2nd fastest SA time over 30km in March this year, Ntombi is an elite athlete of note, though she only started running in her early twenties. Since becoming part of the Nedbank Running Club’s Green Dream Team, Ntombi’s running has improved even more. “I joined the Nedbank Running Club in 2014 and the support I’m getting is amazing. They are paying for all my travelling and accomodation expenses for races. The Nedbank co-sponsors Nike ensures that I am injury free by providing good shoes while Biogen and Futurelife also ensure that I have the necessary supplements to fuel up,” says the 35-year old Human Resources Adminstrator at the Departement of Correctional Services in St Albans.

Starting out
Ntombi started running in 2003 while studying towards her Bachelor of Technology. “I made a bet with a freind after she told me that she was taking part in one of the SPAR ladies races. She never looked like the running type, the only thing I knew about her was that she was selling weight loss products. I asked her how to register for the race. I then ran the 5km race and crossed the finish line before her. And so I fell in love with runnng.” 

Barely a year later in May 2004 Ntombi won her first race, and in 2005 she finished 4th place at the SA Cross Country Champs, qualifying to represent South Africa in Botswana. “That showed me that I have a talent.” 

The day life changed
Ntombi travelled to Transkei in November 2016 to compete at a race there. She got lost on her way there and this is when her nightmare started. She was not only raped, but beaten with a hammer on her back as she tried to protect her head. The rapist kept on telling Ntombi that he was going to kill her, and even told her how he killed his previous victims. “I was crying and begging him not to kill me,” says Ntombi. She remembers the serial killer’s chilling words: " You are such a lucky lady. I never feel pity for my victims and don’t even think twice about killing them, but with you I just dont have it in me to kill you.”

Ntombi convinced him that she won’t report the incident to the police and that she wouldn’t be able to identify him as his face was covered. Little did the serial rapist know that two neighbourhood boys earlier saw Ntombi talk to the man when she asked for directions. It was eventually these two boys that pinpointed the rapist to the police.

Ntombi was admitted to hospital. Sleepless and crying all night, she kept on thinking her broken body would never heal. But the next morning a new resolve took hold of her. “I said to myself I am going to the race and I am going to defend my title. I knew there would be no better place to take my frastrations out than on the road while running. When I am angry I don’t feel the pain, I just run.” She remembers the faster she ran, the more it felt like she was punching her rapist.

Ntombi won the race in tears, and by a huge margin.

Picking up the pieces
And so Ntombi’s journey of healing started through running. “I could not believe what happened to me and that I was still alive. I told myself that God did not let me die for a reason and I promised myself that I am going to be double the person I am. Being alive felt like a second chance in life. I decided I would not let the situation take control of me. Running is my punching bag.

“I would like say to other women who have been through something similar that I know how they feel. No one else knows the pain of being raped, but the victim. But life goes on and it does get better. There is life after rape. Don’t let the situation take control of you, rise above it. Accept what happened and focus on the blessings in your life, find a purpose, something to live for in life. Once you reach that stage it always gets better. Forget about what people will say! Don’t struggle in silence, share your sorrows, not as a victim but as a victor. And always remember that the healing process is a journey.”

Looking ahead
Ntombi has a bright future ahead and is setting her sights on winning the Two Oceans Marathon in the near future. She has run Comrades once in 2013 and plans to attempt it again in the next 5 years.

Though she gets excellent support from her running family at the Nedbank Running Club, she still has a full day of work to negotiate before she can concentrate on training. “My day starts between 4:00 and 4:30am, depending on the distance I need to cover. I need to be at work at 7:15 and finish around  15:45. Then I can fit in another afternoon session at 17:00. The runs in the mornings are mostly easy with harder sessions in the afternoons.”

Though it is hard to fit in training and a full time job, she loves the fact that running is a “one man” sport and that if you don’t train you have no one to blame in competition. “You can run anywhere as long as there is an open space. I’m passionate about running beacause it just completes me, it makes me happy, and when the going gets tough it gives me hope and keeps me sane. I can’t imagine my life without running, I would actually be so bored because its my way of socialising and staying healthy and fit!”

Ntombi is encouraging all women to take up running. “Running is the cheapest sport, it can be done anywhere and all you need is a pair of running shoes. If you have a passion for running then don’t let others stand in your way. You too might discover at a late stage that you have a talent just like me. But in order for that to happen you must take the first step. Running is the best form of councelling, much better than any psychologist. And I am talking from experience.”

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