Q&A with running legend, Blanche Moila

Feb 14, 2020

Blanche Moila is a running legend in South Africa. She was the first black female athlete to be awarded Springbok colours in 1984 and has held numerous running records and titles across various distances throughout her running career. What makes this even more impressive is that she did all of this while still maintaining a career as a psychiatric nurse.

Over the years, Blanche has received numerous awards for her contribution to running in South Africa. These include the State President’s Award for Lifetime Achievement (awarded to her by Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela), the Sonja Laxton Sportmanship Award and the Shoprite Checkers Woman of the Year Award. She has also been the face of the Comrades Marathon

Blanche, now a grand master, is still enjoying her running and has no plans to stop any time soon. She also devotes much of her free time to the development of young female athletes.

We asked her a few questions about her running journey.

Blanche Moila at Comrades 2

How did your running journey start all those years ago?

My running journey started perchance at a Hospital sports day event that I took part in during 1981. I hadn’t done any sports at school as, at the time, girls were not encouraged to excel in sport. I met my mentor, Dr Shorty Moolla, who was a Comrades runner and a Psych Registrar at the hospital. He noticed me running and invited me to join some of his training runs. Initially the running felt really hard but it slowly started to feel more natural. Within time I progressed from a social running into more competitive running.

What were your biggest running achievements?

I’ve had such an incredible running journey and so many amazing experiences but some of the ones that stand out most for me are:

  • Being awarded Springbok colours in 1984.
  • Representing my Country several times internationally, both as an athlete and as an administrator.
  • Receiving the State President ‘s Award
  • The Shoprite checkers woman of the year award
  • The Andrew Mlangeni Sports Jacket from the Minister of Sports
  • SARRA Sportsmanship Award

Young Blanche Moila

Your achievements are clearly numerous, but they weren’t limited to just the road. Tell us about your career highlights as well.

l am a Psychiatric Nurse by profession at King Dinuzulu Hospital. I was awarded the Department of Health MEC’s Service excellence awards in 2013/2014. I received the living legends Certificate of Recognition by the Ethekwini Municipality and also the Best Employee Award at King Dinuzulu Hospital.

Your training for such an impressive running career must have been quite intense, yet you still maintained your career as a nurse. How did you find a balance between work and training?

Balance in life is very important. I derive so much fulfilment from both my vocation and my hobby. One has to complement the other for a holistic healthy lifestyle. It is definitely attainable when you consider that there are 24 hours in every day to follow your dreams, and that’s what I did.  As we say at the hospital, there is just no health without mental health, and finding that balance in life has kept me in a good space.

Blanche Moila Psychiatric nurse

Your running career started at a time when black runners and female runners were facing much adversity in the sport. How did you contend with this?

The social structures of that time certainly presented some challenges. However I was fortunate to have sound support from my family and community. I also had a healthy concept of who l am and what I can achieve. Hence when life gave me “lemons” l made lemonade with my legs and ran with heart. l had positive feedback from many people of different language groups. There were, of course, a few who hurled negativity at me but the negativity was about my melanin-enriched complexion and not about my personality. At that time, there were some who were unhappy about the brown girl who sometimes outran melanin-deficient athletes. But l shrugged it off and kept doing what I love.

Your passion for the sports is undeniable. Can you tell us about your involvement with developing women in running?

 l work with the SA Women In Sports foundation. We aim for women to take their rightful place as players, administrators, coaches and leaders in sports. We must take the initiative to transform sports so that our needs and aspirations are met and stop blaming our circumstances where we are able to change them. We do still live in a patriarchal society where achievements of sportsman are celebrated more than achievements of sportswomen but this is slowly changing. I mentor several youth to follow their goals and dreams in sports. I also visit local schools driving the “achieve before you conceive” campaign. This encourages active participation in sports and coaches life skills to vulnerable young girls.

Blanche Moila awards

Woman have certainly come a long way as runners since you started your running journey, however men still outnumber women in distance running events. What advice can you give to women who are just starting to get involved in the sport?

We have come a long way indeed and more women are participating in sports. A strong motivation to start running is to get fit and healthy. l would encourage the older generation to exercise regularly as well. Age has no penalties and a walk/run is doable. Don’t sweat the small stuff – start with slow short distances and gradually increase the time on your feet. Be patient with yourself and don’t compare yourself to others who are fitter or faster. You will improve progressively. Just enjoy the journey of getting fit, have fun and appreciate the time outdoors. It’s about finding that balance that I mentioned Rest well, eat a balanced diet and drink plenty water. l started with fun runs and eventually built myself up to complete the greatest ultra-marathon – the Comrades Marathon of 90km. lf l can, then you can. #justloverunning

Blanche Moila at Comrades

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