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Defying Running with Ipeleng Khunou
Defying Running with Ipeleng Khunou

17 October 2018

One of the most inspirational stories that came out of the 2018 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon was that of Ipeleng Khunou.

On 31 March he lined up alongside thousands of other runners in the Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon. What made him different from the rest however, is that he tackled the 21.1km distance using crutches. Khunou was born with a brain deformity called Septo Optic Dysplasia, meaning that he was born without balance, and amazingly he completed the 2018 OMTOM Half Marathon.

The 31-year-old says he has always looked for any excuse to get moving on his feet, and his journey as a runner started during his childhood.

“I’ve always tried to run, especially as a child where we would play games that involved chasing each other. For me, it’s not about speed, I just love to move.”

Khunou started running seriously 12 years ago when he decided he needed to lose weight. “I came in at about 120kg and decided that I needed to change my life and running was the easiest way to do that.”

Through age and experience, Khunou’s running escapades have seen him excel, having completed several half marathons including the Old Mutual Om Die Dam Half Marathon. This year was his first attempt at the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, and he couldn’t have been more thrilled to run in Cape Town, albeit with a greater cause than just his own.

“I was really excited about this. What made it special for me was that I ran to raise money for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. A lot of people tell me that I am an inspirational person because I run on crutches but I haven’t felt the same. Now I actually have a purpose to run, and I am driven to help the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. I couldn’t let the children down,” said Khunou.

It wasn’t an easy task. Running with crutches comes with it’s own challenges and is highly taxing on the body and mind.

“I just got some new crutches to run with. In fact, they’re called ‘smart crutches’ and they have been slightly adapted. The OMTOM was the first time I used them and they helped with the impact.”

Khunou says the impact of the crutches hitting the ground is a big challenge with his shoulders absorbing the brunt of the force.

“As for the crutches, I had to be very careful as to not trip anybody else especially in the beginning when we were all bunched up. I also had to ask people during the race if I could pass them.”

Khunou’s debut OMTOM Half Marathon was both successful and enjoyable. “This was one of the best events that I have ever attended, it is just so well organised. As for the race itself, I had a lovely run. Things went well all the way up until about 18 kilometres when I encountered some challenges like the uneven roads.

“But the support was just incredible. There was a lady whom I had never seen or met before, but she had a big poster of us with a line that read ‘Go Ipeleng!’. And that gave me extra courage and strength.”

Post race recovery has also been going well for the 31-year-old, who said, “This is the first race I have run with no injuries and recovery has been a breeze. The very next Tuesday I had a 5km walk without any pain, and on that Thursday I enjoyed an 18km run that was pain free.”

This is only the beginning of an exciting journey for the inspirational runner. He hopes to take on longer distances and may go on to do the OMTOM Ultra Marathon and perhaps even the Comrades Marathon.

Next year he plans on running the OCAL Journey for Change from Pretoria to Cape Town with other runners, all with varied disabilities. There is clearly no stopping Ipeleng Khunou from running and inspiring the world.

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA – MARCH 31: Ipeleng Khunou, the first person to finis the race on crutches during the 2018 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon 21km Half Marathon starting at SA Breweries and finishing at UCT Rugby Fields on March 31, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Roger Sedres/Gallo Images)
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