How running is part of Nolene Conrad’s fabric
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: Welcome onto this edition of Old Mutual Live, we’re going to be chatting some more running today. I’m super excited to welcome our next guest onto the podcast. As soon as I mention her name, it’s a name that’s synonymous with running in South Africa.
She’s been one of the stalwarts, particularly on the front-end of the field for a good few years now. It’s an absolute pleasure to welcome onto Old Mutual Live Nolene Conrad. Nolene welcome, thanks for joining us today.
Nolene Conrad: Thank you Brad.
BB: Nolene, running has been a huge part of your life and as it is, many South Africans, you almost attribute it to saving your life. Because you’ve got quite an interesting story and I find it quite fascinating. Because I don’t want to say I’ve got a similar background. Because you’ve obviously got ability and I’ve got none. But I was also asthmatic as a child and funnily enough, running was sort of advised as far as your asthma goes. Tell us a bit about that, it’s quite an interesting story.
Running was advised to help with asthma
NC: Yes, I was diagnosed when I was 13-years-old with asthma. Then when I had this close to death experience, one night I got sick in the middle of the night. My parents called the ambulance and I nearly didn’t make it because I wasn’t getting any breath. I was struggling to catch my breath.
My pump, there was nothing in it, so I was in a panic mode and then the ambulance came there. I almost didn’t make it. That morning I was in the hospital and the doctor told me that I need to do something about it because I won’t survive past 21. He advised me to do any type of sport, like swimming or running.
Next week when I got back to school, my friend invited me to the cross country because she knew about my situation. So she said maybe I should try cross country and I tried it. I started at the back of the pack and then yes, I struggled just to catch my breath. At the end I would collapse and stuff. But I persevered through that season. Then the next year I was training and right in front.
BB: That’s amazing. I was going to ask you, when did you actually realise you had some ability and you were actually pretty good at it?
NC: I wasn’t good at it at the beginning because like I said, I was at the back. But then it didn’t take me long to get into the training mode and obviously get right in front of the pack. Because obviously being, I had talent and I only discovered it then. I think I was three months in training and then after that I started to run well.
Running made me who I am today
BB: Brilliant. Nolene, you’ve also been attributed to saying that running not only changed your life, but it saved your life. As the story you’ve just told now, but it has changed your life. It’s literally taken you on a course, you’re very involved in the industry now. You still run, but you also work in the industry. It’s fantastic how sport as simple and as basic as running can really turn someone’s life around.
NC: Yes, it’s given me a lot of opportunities. Like I said, my parents didn’t have the money to put me through schooling. They didn’t even have the money to pay for my health problems. So to send me to hospital and stuff at that stage. So the prize money that I got from my running back then, I used to pay my hospital care.
I got my bursary from my running because I was approached by many universities for my running talent and through that I became educated. I got my degree in sports management, I taught at Vorentoe High School for three years.
So all my qualifications I got on bursaries that I received from my running talent. Today I’m providing for my family, for my parents also from the money that I make from my running. I got the opportunity from Endurocad to work with them on the Cape Town Marathon event and also with the athletes. So, it’s more venturing into the sports management field, which is great.
BB: It’s awesome and we’ll touch on your role at Endurocad in just a moment. But obviously we’ve just come out of an Olympic Games. I see some of the performances from Team South Africa, just from sitting on the outside.
I look at somebody like Wayde van Niekerk or our long jumper, Luvo Manyonga, his story is phenomenal. Does it excite you, sitting and watching those sort of guys on the global stage? Knowing how athletics and running has changed your life and knowing, let’s use those two youngsters as an example, what’s happened in their lives. Because of their athletic ability and also what’s to come because that story hasn’t been written or it’s not finished yet. There’s still a long way to go and so much can still happen and change for those two guys in particular.
Sport can help make a difference
NC: Yes, I think it’s amazing and if you look at their stories, they also have quite fascinating stories. Wayde was born at 29 weeks, so that’s a fascinating story and look where he is today. Luvo also had some problems, but he’s overcome it. It just shows that anything is possible. It also shows that South Africans can run and we can compete with the rest of the world.
For me, it’s really motivating, it just shows that I can also do that. You just need to work hard and you need to have the support system in place. I always motivate the youngsters here in our community, just to show that sport has made a difference. That they can see from those examples that they can also achieve success.
BB: I think it’s such an important message and the truth of the matter is, Nolene, and I’m sure you’ll agree with me here. Is you don’t have to win Olympic Gold Medals in order to have athletics change your life. If you’re good and you work hard, you might not even make it to the Olympics.
But there are tertiary institutions and places where you can literally re-write your history. I think that’s fantastic. Let’s talk about you personally and some of the things that you’ve been able to achieve from an athletic point of view? What would you say has been your proudest athletic achievement?
NC: My proudest moment was back in 2006 when I made the Commonwealth Games team, I was the youngest member, I was 20 years old. Back then I broke a SA Record for the steeple chase and I won my first SA title, so that was when I made a name for myself. I think every moment, every opportunity I get to represent South Africa is also a highlight for me.
BB: That thrill probably never ever goes away. The first time it happens it must be special, but every single time, after that, where you get the chance to put on that green and gold vest must be pretty special.
NC: Yes, it’s definitely a special moment.
Getting involved with Endurocad
BB: Nolene, let’s talk about your involvement at Endurocad. You obviously applied to be part of the academy, I believe as an athlete, a few years ago. But that role has obviously changed and you’ve developed a new, I don’t want to say you’ve become part of the furniture. But you’re really helping out there and it’s a great platform and a great academy. Why did you want to get involved as an athlete with Endurocad?
NC: I was working at the school then, so I was a school teacher. But my goal wasn’t to be a school teacher. It just happened because my coach was there and I studied post graduate in education. But I really wanted to become involved in school sports.
When I was at Vorentoe High School, Elana Meyer contacted me and she wanted me to come back to Cape Town. Come back to my home town. Because I was living in Johannesburg then. So I decided to take up her offer to come and work for Endurocad and to do what I love.
I love working with athletes and working in the industry. Because teaching is not really a good lifestyle for a professional athlete. It’s more like your time is limited and you run to survive. So basically you’re not in an excellent lifestyle.
What I’m doing now is I’m working at Endurocad, but I’m also flexible. So my sport is my first priority and then from there we manage where I work and how I do things. It’s really a good lifestyle for me now, to just focus on my sport.
BB: Tell me what it’s like working with and dealing with someone like Elana Meyer who is a legend in South African running. Olympic Silver Medallist back in Barcelona in 1992 and seeds were almost planted there from a South African running perspective.
She’s giving back lots, but she’s almost, I don’t want to say she’s behind the scenes because you see her out and about. But she’s putting in so much hard work behind the scenes that people don’t actually realise, she’s ploughing so much back into running in South Africa. Isn’t she Nolene?
NC: Yes, when I applied for the academy I said, the first thing I saw when I saw she opened the academy, I was like, I want to be part of that academy. I want to have this relationship with Elana Meyer because I want to improve myself as an athlete.
Then when I got to the academy I asked her to be my mentor. she was so down to earth and she said to me, yes, sure she’ll be my mentor. She’ll help me and she’s been great with that. She’s probably the best mentor you can have.
She’s very supportive and she cares about the athletes and that’s what makes a difference. It’s not just for her, it’s not just a thing, she really cares about the athletes. She goes out of her way and she does work behind the scenes a lot of the time. She gives back a lot to the sport.
What running goals do you still have?
BB: Nolene, for you, from an athletic point of view, what do you still want to achieve athletically?
NC: My main goal is to be a IAAF Gold Label Status athlete, that requires me to be Top 20 in the world at any championship, World Championship. That would be my next goal. I’m aiming to make a World Championship team. But not just to make it, but then to achieve a top ten or a top twenty placing. So that I can achieve my IAAF Gold Label Status.
BB: Brilliant, and as far as the coaching and mentoring, at the end when you’re maybe old and grey, many years from now, if you have to look back at your life. What would you want to have achieved in growing the sport in South Africa?
NC: I would like to start my own initiative in my community. I come from Eerste River and there’s a lot of talent there. I would like to, even if it’s just opening a club or having a race there where you promote the sport in the community. I want to give back in that way and also help young athletes to achieve their goals and to realise their talents. Getting involved with schools where that’s important for the kids.
BB: Nolene, I think you’re doing an amazing job, you’re a phenomenal athlete. Love watching you run, so keep up the great work. If there’s anything we can do to help, please shout, but you’re doing fantastically well. We look forward to seeing you racing again very, very soon.
NC: Thank you Brad. Bye.