The 2016 Unogwaja Challenge is just 60 days away and it’s time to meet our next member of the 2016 team. Craig Wiseman, our favourite Australian (Although he is really a South African), decided after his world was changed in 2015 that he would like to take on the 2016 edition and play a role in a supporting some of the new riders. We couldn’t think of a better person for the role. We had a chat with Wisey about all things Unogwaja.
Jabu: You are returning from Unogwaja 2015 to feature again, what made you want to come back and do it again?
Craig: There are two main reasons that why I desperately wanted to return to this incredible cause, the first is the actual fundraising and opportunity to continue to spread the word of this incredible journey here in Australia. Such special people and networks were developed last year, and I just felt that with one more year there was a real opportunity to capitalise on the momentum started in 2015. Already even now there are some exiting things possibly happing here in Australia which I have been discussing with Macky, and the opportunities continue to grow, which is hugely exciting.
And secondly, It is such a big and overwhelming journey in so many positive ways, from training to fundraising, the actual journey itself, the smiling faces that you see all along the way, your team mates and who they are and what they represent, and then just the sheer grandeur and majesty of the South African landscape that is simply breath taking, I just had to keep telling myself each day no matter how tired or broken I felt “pinch yourself, look up, take this in, remember what you are seeing, remember what you are feeling, because it may be the last chance that you get to see something so beautiful and be a part of something so special”. I think what I am trying to say, is that from the time you are selected to the day that you cross the finish line the journey going in is so big, that to grasp or get your head around it is difficult, so you put your head down, you keep pushing just holding on and hoping that you are doing the right thing, and when it ends and that line is crossed the experience is just too emotional, raw and big to explain to someone in its entirety. I just wanted one more opportunity to be able to experience South Africa in such a special way, there is nothing like it, and it is something I will never ever forget.
Craig: Aside from the incredible people who I had the privilege of sharing this journey with, joining with John and Brundle in Richmond, arriving in Pietermaritzburg and of course finishing the Comrades Marathon, the one moment that really stood out from me was the children that we would ride past each morning as they made their way to school. To ride past these children your heart would just want to burst with pride, hope and happiness. A distinctly specific memory from Day 8, riding from Maclear to Kokstad, amongst the hundreds of children, all with perfect uniforms, smiling, happy and laughing, I remember riding past a small child around 6 years old skipping alone, in his own world, smile from ear to ear, tapping his stick on the guard rail on the side of the road as he went, no doubt walking at least 6 km a day to school. I just knew it right then and there, this little boy together with the other children making their way shows a strength and drive that very few would be prepared to make in today’s world, and just like that it puts everything in perspective, a child walking at least 6km a day at 6 years old, on his own, but not only that…loving it, cherishing his opportunity, I remember thinking if he can do that every single day and with a smile what’s more, it says everything about the potential of such a country, I think kids like this little 6 year old boy just need the opportunity and platform to become something very bright for South Africa’s future. This is one memory that stands out amongst the many incredible memories and it is also why I believe in Unogwaja so strongly and the incredible work that has been done for places like Lebone Village, Vukasabenze and this year Umsilinga Primary School.
Jabu: Have you seen tangible growth of the Unogwaja movement in Australia after your adventure last year?
Craig: The support here in Australia has been absolutely incredible, there are red socks all over this country already (I still have about 400 pairs that are crying out for a home haha), and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that in the next couple of years red sock running groups will begin to pop up in each of the major cities, it is inevitable. The opportunity for growth is huge here, Australia has over 400 Comrades runners each year (and growing), there are 50 here alone here in Perth, they meet every single Saturday morning for their long runs up in our “hills” (there are not that many hills in Perth :), and really are a great bunch. There is already interest in the cause coming from the Sydney and the eastern states, one gentleman in particular (he knows who he is), I have never met him personally, but he has been following the Unogwaja and we have been in contact ever since. He himself an avid marathoner and runner, part of a sensational network of people who run really do seem to run in the right spirit, I look forward to hopefully seeing people like this take up the Unogwaja cause one day here in Australia.
Craig: From an Unogwaja perspective there is no question it is your team mates, these are the people that carry you, encourage you, push you in those darkest moments when your head starts to drop. No matter how fit you are, there are moments out there where everything is dark, your legs ache, you are sore, you can barely speak, your mind is in a negative frame, doubt creeps in, it is in these moments that your team mates define themselves and really define you, from a physical aspect it is what this journey is all about, it is why 12 strangers can meet for the first time from around the world and become friends for a lifetime after 11 days. Something very special happens out there on those South African roads.
When it’s just me, usually I am training for something my friends would find quiet silly be it Comrades or Unogwaja. As those that have participated in either know the goal to finish each of these is driven by a passion for some it is family, friends or for the opportunity to take on an ultimate challenge. Where I am going with this is that in your darkest moments, it is those drivers and passions that carry you, for me I can see the Comrades finish line as though it was right there in front of me, hear the joy of the other runners finishing, feel the thousands of supporters pushing you through that last kilometre and to feel the elation and relief as you put your first step over the finish line. This year it is even easier and picture the moment we meet the kids from Umsilinga Primary School in Pietermaritzburg. I think about these things just about every training run, and every dark moment I have out there.
Jabu: How difficult is it preparing for Unogwaja in Australia where there are not a lot of marathons?
Craig: I won’t lie it’s a tough gig on your own, there is no better experience than running a marathon with a whole bunch of friends and other people going through the same experiences as you. I am very jealous of the model that South Africa has with its running and athletics clubs, I have not seen a better system anywhere, there is a Marathon every single weekend in the lead up to Comrades, and I think this is incredible.
Here in Aus. we adjust accordingly, whilst there is a lot of time spent running on one’s own, as I mentioned there are clusters of Comrades runners all over the country with great networks, here in Perth over 50, we all bunch together to get through those long runs when we can.
For Unogwaja last year I had a friend who loves his triathlons join me each morning for a ride, this really helped get me out of bed at 4:45am, as most know I am not the greatest morning person haha.
Craig: You matter, stay the course, be true to yourselves, know that it is true that anything in this world is achievable if you put your heart and soul into it. You guys have got this, South Africa needs you and I cannot wait to see your smiling faces in PMB ;).
Jabu: What could each person do to make the world a better place in your opinion?
Craig: It is very easy in today’s world to focus purely on one’s self, I think if each person took a step back and really empathised and were sensitive to the people around them, put themselves in others shoes so to speak to really understand one other and what drives each of us I think this would help immensely. The feeling you get from putting someone else before yourself is an extremely fulfilling way to live a life and the benefit to those around can be infinite.
Jabu: Your family followed you around SA last year in a tremendous show of support, how important are your family in your life?
Craig: My family mean everything to me, they really are my rocks, there are too many times in my life that they have provided me with advice, guidance and love that really has pulled me out of some dark places. They are absolutely huge supporters of Unogwaja, Mum is always sending me picture of her Red Socks on a Friday as she tootles off to the Medical practice where she works, she is the heart and boss of the house, Dad is the technical director, motivator and boss of the garden haha and can be heard saying things like “how’s the training…really?…I think you should do more. How’s the fundraising? Great…I think you should do more. You have got this, keep going”. And of course my little sister she is the boss of everyone and I am her number one fan, I work on her every year to run with me and can’t wait for the day I can run a Comrades with her.
Jokes aside, like me returning to South Africa, for my family it is also return to their heritage, family and friends, for them it is an opportunity to see the Unogwaja journey unfold, see family along the way, and take in what is a truly spectacular country. The family have been back with me every year since 2011, and will be back again to support the team in 2016, which is awesome!
Craig: Haha I wish… No not at all, The Comrades Marathon has always presented me with the gift of returning to my heritage, something one does not let go, it has provided me with the opportunity to see family and be a part of something that all South Africans aspire to in some way be it a supporter or runner. Being a part of the Unogwaja story and completing the journey is a privilege and an honour and takes that heritage one step further by providing me with the opportunity to simply to give back to a country I believe in, somewhere with immense potential.
Jabu: Have you got any advice that will help your team mates this year?
Craig: From the moment you are selected everything happens so quickly, before you know it you arrive at the Tsogo Sun in Cape Town and the next thing you are sitting on the beach front at Breakers in Umhlanga having your last team meeting the day after Comrades. I would just say as often as you possibly can, take a step back and try and take in as much of the experience, the people along the way and the scenery as you possibly can. There is no experience like it, it is simply incredible. I really look forward to meeting each of these incredible individuals, it’s going to be a big year for Unogwaja no doubt.