Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Inspirational Runners - Caster Semenya Edition

This WOMAN (the reason for the all-caps to follow) is incredible! Caster Semenya is a native of South Africa's Limpopo region which borders Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. When she started running seriously, Semenya didn't have a state-of-the-art fitness facility to train in; she didn't even have anything that came relatively close to resembling a running track. Semenya and other members of the Moletjie Athletics Club train through South African bush scraping and wounding their bare feet on brambles and thorns. 

In 2008, Semenya won the gold medal for her event (the 800-metre) at the Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, India. That same year, at the African Junior Athletics Championships in Mauritius, Semenya won her second gold medal. She now held the South African record for the 800-metre. In 2009, she entered her first senior competition, the World Championships in Berlin. Semenya won the race by a two and a half seconds - flying past her competition. Like I said, SHE's (I'm getting to the all-caps) incredible!

Ok, here it is - the reason for the all-caps: 
Because of her impeccable race times and the interpretation by some that her physical appearance was somewhat "unfeminine", for the next two years, Semenya's gender was questioned. Wait, what?! Yes, you read that right. Semenya's gender was not only investigated by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), but it was smeared far and wide throughout the media. For two years, she was poked and proded, harassed and ridiculed. 

In 2011, her name and genitals were cleared by the IAAF and Semenya could "officially" compete as a WOMAN. She finished second at the Worlds in South Korea. 

Semenya is the favorite to win the 800-metre at the London 2012 Olympics. SHE will also be the athlete carrying South Africa's flag during the opening ceremonies. I typically cheer for my fellow Canucks, but in the Women's 800-metre, I'll be rooting for Caster!

I always end these Inspirational Runner blogs off with some wise words from the featured athlete. Throughout this entire ordeal, Semenya has been rather silent - and rightly so. I did find something that made me smile in an article I read in the New Yorker that was written during the time Semenya was banned from competitive running while the IAAF investigated her gender. With a smile on her face, Semenya told the reporter, "Now I just have to walk away. That's all I can do. Walk away from all of this, maybe forever. Now I just walk away."

Like Semenya, the students I am running my half marathon to support come from areas of Africa where sports are played bare foot in dirt fields. In spite of what we would perceive as insurmountable hardships, these students keep smiling and with our help will flourish! Please donate to WUSC's SRP and give these students a chance!