VUYOKAZI BONGELA: Changing Narratives
As I pen this, I have just completed a 4km pool swim. Yep, that’s right, 4km. My arms are getting used to this, so is my mind. Who would have thought? Definitely not me. Soon I’ll be standing at Hobie Beach in Port Elizabeth at the start of realising a long term dream. Imagine hearing the words, “Vuyo, you are an IRONMAN.” Aaah, I get goosebumps at the mere thought of it.
I live in PE where the IRONMAN African Championship has been taking place for the past 11 years. In 2011, I went to support friends who were participating, and I was amazed. At the well trained bodies but more so the sheer determination and endurance spirit of those athletes and what the body can achieve. I made a silent promise to myself that I too would do this one day, but I could not swim nor cycle. It was the same year Chrissie Wellington and Raynard Tissink (now my coach) took the women and men’s win.
As a follower of the sport, I started very small with two Iron-girl medals, two Corporate Challenge medals, one 70.3 Durban medal, two 70.3 South Africa DNFs in East London and two 5150s in PE. What is missing in this picture? The IMAC medal. This, for me, was and still is the ultimate goal, I mean it is the pinnacle of triathlon (ok, it’s not Kona) but Africa, home!
Just like anything in life, anything worth doing is worth investing time towards achieving it. Armed with this thinking, I started learning how to ride and swim (that requires a book on its own). When I could do both I started building my base.
In 2014 I met my now coaches, Raynard and Natalie Tissink. I doubt they expected how novice I was at the sport, but I did everything I was told to do, and asked when I did not understand something. They helped me prepare for my first IRONMAN 70.3 Durban in 2015. Completing that race was a confidence booster of note. I dealt with many fears, many low selfesteem issues (in the sport) and many demons. The two failed attempts in East London, with the last one in 2017 being a one minute, 24 second cut off on the bike,
were character building. In this journey, I learnt that disappointments are inevitable but encouragement is a choice. The goal was always full IRONMAN, and 2018 was going to be the year. Needing to build my endurance muscles I trained and completed my first Comrades run but this was not enough as I still had the lingering urge to get an African Championship medal. In 2017, I registered for the race, informed my coaches that I am ready to put my body through the paces and take the mind where it needs to go. The training is incredible, I absolutely enjoy it – it is not easy, it requires a lot of commitment but logging my session as complete gives me a sense of accomplishment.
This journey has taught me a lot about my resilient spirit, a lot about dedication and discipline, it is not easy to wake up at 4am to start riding at 5am, because you have to be in your first meeting at 8:30am in heels and makeup – not a requirement, but we have to represent. Many people ask me why I do the sport. I have a couple of reasons but the most obvious one is to encourage the young girls who look like me to see themselves in me and to be inspired to some day tackle something they thought was too big for them to accomplish.