From being high on Nyaope (a street drug in South Africa) to being high on life – the 34-year old amputee, Xolani Luvuno, has captured the hearts of the nation. His determination, courage and willpower shows South Africa how achieving the impossible, is possible with the right amount of perseverance.
Life has undoubtedly been challenging for this athlete. During Xolani’s teenage years, he dropped out of school in Port Elizabeth and turned to a life of crime, which led to some jail time. In 2009, Xolani found himself begging for money, dependent on Nyaope and alcohol, and living underneath a bridge in Pretoria after having his leg amputated as a result of bone cancer.
In 2016, his life changed when a man he now refers to as “his father, his coach and his everything”, Hein Venter presented him with a job at his perfume factory. This is where he got fitted for a prosthetic leg and stopped taking drugs – cold turkey. However, he continued with alcohol abuse, but after some tough love from Hein, he stopped drinking. As soon as he realised that he desperately needed to live a better life, he replaced his substance addictions with a new addiction: running. With his new-found passion, he joined the Sunbird Striders running club.
He started with a tough 5km run and went on to complete his first marathon in seven hours, using crutches. After a lot of hard work and pain, he was hooked on running and had made it his mission to complete the Comrades marathon. Two years later, Hein and Xolani stood at the start line of the Comrades five hours prior to the big race. The organisers had allowed them a head start, due to Xolani having a disadvantage over the other athletes.
While training for the Comrades, Xolani’s stump had contracted an infection and he was forced to race the Comrades with his crutches instead of using his running blade. Despite the challenge, 15 hours and 50 minutes later, they both received an emotional welcome over the finish line, inspiring South Africans everywhere.
“I do realise that my story can be a source of inspiration to others. It is important for me to keep on doing things that will inspire people so that they will also challenge themselves and will experience some of the joy that I have experienced since I got involved in sport. We must just all challenge ourselves to do new and difficult things. It does not just have to be sport. There are many other areas in our lives where we can have wonderful experiences if we choose to do that which seems difficult. Nobody ever achieves real success if they are not prepared to be brave and face challenges” Says Xolani.
Completing Comrades wasn’t enough for Xolani and he pushed his limits even further in January this year by taking part in the Standard Bank IRONMAN 70.3 South Africa triathlon in Buffalo City, which consisted of a 1.9km swim (the swim was shortened to 1.1km due to rough sea conditions), 90km cycle and a 21.1km run. This time, Xolani and Hein started the same time as the other athletes and finished before the cut-off time of 8 hours and 30 minutes, bringing them to an overwhelming and unforgettable finish. Xolani says, “it’s supposed to be hard, but I don’t think to quit. Feeling pain is normal. I felt pain during IRONMAN [70.3], but I motivated myself to push and reach 90km.”
This courageous athlete will stop at nothing to prove that anything is possible. It is thrilling to hear that Xolani is aspiring to achieve even greater heights by taking part in the 2019 Standard Bank IRONMAN African Championship event on the 7th of April in Nelson Mandela Bay. There is no doubt that the Friendly City will be rooting for Xolani and his father figure.
“Our successes and failures in life are more dependent on the choices that we make than on any other factors. The sooner that we take complete ownership for our successes and failures, the sooner we will prosper and have amazing experiences. All winners had to overcome adversity and challenges. That’s how life works. When we choose to make excuses, feel sorry for ourselves, blame others, avoid challenges, procrastinate or allow other people’s opinions about things to drag us down, we deceive ourselves and deprive ourselves of incredible experiences. Motivating yourself and people is all about getting very excited about a potential destination (goal) and then committing yourself to the often-difficult journey that will ultimately get you to the destination. Never lose sight of your end goal and fall in love with the thought of achieving it. Overcoming difficulty is always part of the journey – and it is very rewarding. We do unfortunately live in an era of instant gratification in which people expect instant success and satisfaction – or otherwise they give up. We are our own worst enemies and will continue to not realise our potential while living mediocre lives if we are not prepared to step outside of our comfort zones. There is no instant success. Do the most with your own abilities. Don’t ever compare yourself to anybody else and feel inferior. Surround yourself with positive, honest, hard-working and inspiring people and talk to them regularly for further inspiration.”
“It has been a good experience. I have met a lot of new and interesting people and did not expect that the story would get so much attention. I know that my story can have a positive impact and therefore do not mind talking to people.”