By Allan Parrott
THE post of the three boys of Stellenbosch standing on the podium and the author’s comment [Clement du Plessis] on talent prompted me to contribute to the concept of talent in athletics. No science went into what follows. It is only my own meandering thoughts on this thing called talent and what the young should do with their talent.
Originally talent referred to an ancient unit of weight or money, but it got a new meaning as “special natural ability, aptitude” from the parable of the talents in Matthew 25: 14 – 30.
Basically, a call from Jesus to his followers to use their God-given gifts in the service of God. So, by its very nature a very Christian concept – but I am sure that it is a concept found in other religions as well.
We all know that Christianity is a religion of sacrifice. Jesus Himself came to this earth to be sacrificed to pay for our sins. The way I see it then is that the fulfillment or at least the striving to fulfill the promise bestowed upon anyone in the form of great natural athletic ability should be seen as a sacrifice to God. Your own personal sacrifice.
“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required!” (Luke 12:48).
How many times does one hear about a talented young person who would have been the next Derartu Tulu or the next David Rudisha or the next whomever? However, they did not realise the promise they displayed as young ones.
They never made it! Maybe because of the reasons given by Du Plessis on his website: “They had to keep households running, others had their summer codes clashing, others chose to focus on their studies and a number of athletes had been intimidated by reputations of the senior champions which in many cases were much older than the fresh-faced high schools’ athletes.” I am sure that many excuses can be added to the above-mentioned.
Daley Thompson, the Olympic double gold medallist as a decathlete once said: “They do not post these things [gold medals] to you. You have to be there, pitch up, participate first and then perform”.
Those words still ring true today. A similar sentiment was uttered by my coach, Wilfred Daniels, referring to talented athletes, who shunned competition by sitting in the stands while the race was on. And later claim that they could have done this or that.
Now, I can think of many athletes who, when they came to the crossroads, did not take the road of sacrifices, because, somehow, they knew that that path was going to be too hard. (With apologies to Al Pacino in Scent of a woman and Robert Frost).
Maybe the reasons of those talented athletes were justified. After all, life is and was difficult. Or maybe they were just excuses to get out of a situation that would have put them through the long, arduous and lonely process, in the realisation of talent.
Road less travelled
There were, however, other athletes who took the road less travelled – the hard road. And they should be saluted. Athletes like: Colin Anders of Spartans who had a wife and children, a household, a job, was WPAAU representative to WEPCOS meetings, club stalwart and was still competing right up to the day he sadly passed on.
Then there was Danny Brown of Elsie’s River, with wife, kids, job, community work and workers’ union responsibilities. To this list one can add the names of Wilfred Daniels, Cecil Blows, Robin April, Wilson Claasen, Edmund Lewis, Tobias Philander, Donovan Wright, Jantjie Marthinus, O’Neil Simpson, Nico Vermeulen, Daniel Orange, Trevor De Bruyn, Joe Warries, Abe Fortuin, Kosie Botha, Kosie Koopman, Johannes Brandt, Japhta Hendricks, Andy James, David Snyders, Thys De Vries, John September, Owen Machelm and many, many others.
Of course, someone can also argue that it is easier for men to follow that dream because they do not have to bear children and go through long lay-offs before and after childbirth and they do not have households to run.
Maybe, then one should really salute the talented female athletes who did chase after the dream. Here one thinks about athletes like Dawn Abrahams (Spartans), who competed long after she became a mom, with a household, a job and a husband. This was in the seventies and early eighties when it was uncool for female athletes to participate in athletics after motherhood. Also, there were Hendrina Persendt (Gugulethu), Valda Booysen, Suezette Arendse (Hewat), Melody Marcus (UWC) and Farwa Mentoor (Mitchell’s Plain).
And whilst one is on the topic of talented female athletes who achieved past their high school years, it will be befitting to bring in a quote about Liz McColgan, Scottish distance runner and 1991 World 10 000 metre Champion. The quote was part of an article published on the website Scottish Distance Running History:
“But athletics is full of ‘might-have-beens’, talented young athletes who ‘could have’ done great things. Trouble is that many were badly advised, many were pushed too hard by relatives and many of them were just unrealistic about their talents and what it would take to develop them. Well, Liz was well looked after by her family and Harry but one of the personality traits that was to stand her in good stead throughout her own career was that she was always realistic about what could be done and what route had to be taken to get there.”
Of course, of all the female athletes who participated in athletics, the sacrifices made by Jowaine Parrott are best known to me. It will thus be prudent to look at sacrificing to fulfill your talent from her perspective.
What follows is a summary of a speech entitled The Sportswoman in the Township, which was delivered by Jowaine at the Women in Sport Conference in George in August 1997.
Jowaine was born in a township outside Stellenbosch. She never knew her father, grew up in a two-bedroom house with her grandparents and quite a number of other children. She started running when she was in Standard 8 (1984). Her grandfather passed away in 1986 and her grandmother in 1987. She was not blessed with exceptional talent, but with the right motivation and guidance, she was able to amass a number of successes in an elite athletics career, which spanned just more than 12 years. She considers the following three achievements as her biggest; SASSSA colours and captaincy (because of the enormous pool of talent – SASSSA reached every part of South Africa), winning the All Africa Games Marathon in 1995 (because she was and still is the only South African female to beat the might of the Ethiopian distance runners) and being the first woman from a township to win a gold medal in the 1996 Comrades Marathon (because the cards were stacked so heavily against a person from the townships – even just to participate in the KwaZulu-Natal epic).
And she did this all whilst she was studying, (she completed a Teaching Diploma, B-Degree, Post Graduate Diploma, an Honours Degree, and numerous certificates on coaching and first aid), getting married (1989), having children (1993 & 2000), running a household, teaching (from 1990 onwards), coaching. She acted as a representative to the Stellenbosch Sports Governing Board, WPAAU meetings for both the Stellenbosch Club and the Bellville College of Education clubs. Through all those years of following her talent and fulfill the task laid down by Jesus in the parable, she would get upset at those people trying to line the path with stumbling blocks, but she never tried to make excuses. She brought those sacrifices with passion.
Maybe it was just because, like Liz McColgan, she was always realistic about what could be done and what route had to be taken to get there. Maybe it was because, like Daley Thompson, she realised that nobody is going to post anything to her. She pitched up, participated (not sitting in the stands) and performed.
What should young talented athletes do with that talent? Pursue it. Find a way. Find the right guidance. Be realistic about what can be done and what route has to be taken to get there. And then pitch up, participate and perform!
Others have done it before you with much less in the form of resources. So, what is stopping you?
*Allan Parrott coached numerous athletes and tri-athletes to national honours, most notably Brad Storm and Carl Storm and Jowaine Parrott (Née Lategan), who he coached since her years as a beginner at Sacos in 1984. Under his guidance, she went on to become All Africa Marathon Champion in September 1995. Jowaine was selected to the SA marathon team on two occasions in 1995 and once in 1997. She also has the following PBs to her credit; Marathon – 2:41:59 in Berlin Marathon, 1996, 21.1km in 1:15:00, 1995, 15km in 52:36 in Paarl, 1995, 10km in Bellville in 34:26 in 1995, Two Oceans in 3:47:05 in 1996 and Comrades 6:55:19 in 1996.