The incredible Xolani Luvono

[Editor’s note: Article as featured in the 2019 Ironman PE / Triathlon SBR magazine. Update, Xolani unfortunately broke his hand during the transition of the 2019 IronMan PE and subsequently missed the bike cut-off. He is however ready and roaring to overcome this obstacle and more motivated than ever to complete a full distance Ironman.]

Xolani Luvono’s road to his first Ironman is one like few other. Less than 3 years ago Xolani (34) was a drug addicted begger, living under a bridge in Pretoria. Having grown up in the Eastern Cape, he unfortunately dropped out of school at a young age, got involved in gangsterism and drugs and ended up in jail for 5 years. In 2008 Xolani was diagnosed with bone cancer and his right leg had to be amputated. His disability and lack of education led to him moving up north and becoming a begger. However his journey didn’t end there, and took a remarkable twist. Against all odds he will now be lining up for Ironman Port Elizabeth! On 26 April 2016 (yes you read right, less than 3 years ago), Xolani was fortunate enough to meet Hein Venter at a robot, while Xolani was begging. Hein offered him a job at his perfume factory and organised accommodation for Xolani – this simple act of generosity stirred Xolani’s spirit, and inspired him to give up his drug addiction, start running and ultimately turn his life around. He has since has since completed the Comrades marathon in 2018 and also IronMan 70.3 East London in January 2019 in a time of 8h22!

Now, only a few days before his first Ironman Port Elizabeth we got to speak to an excited Xolani!

Xolani – first up congratulations in completing the Ironman 70.3 in East London, has
the achievement sunk in yet?  I celebrated in my heart a few days, because it was such a
good experience to finish, but you can’t celebrate forever and I’ve been training hard for the
full [Ironman] ever since.

How has the training been going? I have been training very hard and have focussed on the swimming and cycling. Most mornings I start indoor cycling at 4am and then go swimming later in the morning. I have started doing open water swimming at Cradle Moon and have done a 4km training swim in dam recently in 1h47min and will try to go for 1h30 this weekend. We also do long rides in the Cradle, but should maybe have done more. I still run a lot as well and regularly do a few 21km runs a week.

You’ve already completed Comrades, and we have to ask, which one was tougher?  The Comrades was definitely tougher than the 70.3 as you get pain from using the same muscles for such a long time. Ironman 70.3 was hard work but not as painful, but I think the full Ironman will be tougher than the Comrades. I am running fit and can go do the Comrades tomorrow without fear, but I’m still a bit nervous about the swim, especially if there are big waves.

How did you decide on doing Ironman? After finishing Comrades in 2018 I immediately thought – what is next? I love doing hard stuff and Ironman is as hard as it gets. Being the first black amputee to finish the Comrades I also want to inspire other amputees and disabled people to complete the Ironman. That is my motivation. A lot of disabled people are often scared of the swim, and I am as well, but I hope I can inspire them to overcome that fear.

Do you have a time in mind? [Haha] I will just be happy to finish within cut-off, even if its 22h40 if I make cut-off I will be so proud and happy.

What part of the triathlon do you like the most? Running is my favourite part as that is
where it started for me. At Ironman there are also more crowds on the run and I enjoy the
interaction. Swimming in rough seas is a challenge to me, but it is also good to experience
tough conditions, it makes you stronger and the memories last longer.

Doesn’t your hands and shoulders get incredibly sore running so far on crutches? No, running is really easy for me. I’ve been doing it for so long that they are very strong, so for me its not a problem to run.

Any words of encouragement, you want to share? I always tell people to be strong when
its difficult. We all experience difficult conditions in different areas of our lives, and as
sportsmen. You can’t give up when its difficult. You have the power to continue, use that
power. Use what you have and make most of it, even if it means running on crutches if you
only have one leg. Make the most of it. Your whole life is about choices, my bad choices let
me to become a drug addict – but my good choices and dedication let me to become a
Comrades finisher and an Ironman.

What is your secret for succeeding despite the challenges? The secret is in your head
and your heart. You must want it and then stay strong to achieve your goal.

Dare I ask what is next? My goal is to do the Ironman completely by myself. For now I still
do the bike on a tandem (with Hein) and I’m just so grateful to Ironman for allowing me to
complete it on a tandem. However next year I will do it solo. I will do the 70.3 in Durban by
myself. I cannot miss the Comrades after doing it once, so will do that again as well!

We end the call and say our goodbyes, before Xolani quickly adds: “Thank you again Meneer. You doing this story, makes me proud of myself. God bless you”. Xolani, you who make us all proud to be South African, inspires us and gives us hope. If you do spot Xolani out on the course, please do give him the support that this hero rightly deserves!

Photo credits: FinisherPics.