Former drug addict, cancer survivor and amputee Xolani Luvunu. Picture: Jacques Naude
Pretoria - After being orphaned at a young age, losing a limb to bone marrow cancer, sleeping in the streets for years and fighting a drug addiction, Xolani Luvunu finally has something to smile about.

The 32-year-old from the Eastern Cape could barely contain his smile while simultaneously fighting back tears when he spoke about his recent achievement.

Luvunu completed the gruelling 42km Wally Hayward Race, with a prosthetic leg, two crutches and sheer determination.

He finished the race even though he struggled with immense pain in his residual limb.

“I got so much encouragement on the road. People were shocked and amazed to see me running the race on a prosthetic leg and crutches,” he told the Pretoria News yesterday.

Social activist Yusuf Abramjee stopped the runner and asked him why he was running with crutches. After hearing his story, he posted it online.

“I’ve just spotted this runner in Centurion running The Wally Hayward - he has bone marrow cancer. I salute his courage and willpower,” wrote Abramjee.

But Luvunu’s life hasn’t been a walk in the park. And who knows it better than his boss, and possibly his best friend Hein Venter.

He picked Luvunu up near a bridge in Irene a year ago.

Former drug addict, cancer survivor and amputee Xolani Luvunu with his 'father' Hein Venter, who took him off the streets and introduced him to running. Picture: Jacques Naude

Luvunu was homeless and addicted to nyaope.

“I used to drive past Xolani every day to and from work.

“I was intrigued by how young he was with no leg and wondered what he was doing on the streets,” said Venter.

Finally curiosity got the best of Venter and in March last year he stopped to ask Luvunu about his life. The first thing Luvunu said to Venter was: “Hello father, how are you?”

Venter was immediately touched by his approach and took him to his home. He gave him clean clothes, food and a bed. Venter asked one of his employees to find a room to rent for Luvunu in Mamelodi.

“I saw something in him. He is my boy,” said Venter, beaming with pride.

Venter got Levunu off drugs and gave him a job at his perfume company Sunbird perfumes, and finally got him into running.

After kicking the drug habit “cold turkey” - with no rehab, Venter decided to get Luvunu a prosthetic leg in May last year. “After getting that leg I wanted to walk all the time and not sit down,” said Luvunu.

“And what better way than to use your leg and show appreciation than running,” he added.

Venter encouraged his employees to get involved in marathons by offering a monetary incentive. “I promised them money if they ran at least one marathon a year, because a healthy body equals a healthy mind,” said Venter.

Luvunu has a couple of races under his belt, including three 21km races and a few 10km and 5km races.

There have been setbacks - Luvunu started drinking again, which resulted in Venter firing him from work for two weeks.

Luvunu said those weeks were the darkest period of his life.

“It was back to sleeping under bridges and mixing with bad friends and a corrupt environment,” he said, with pain and tears in his eyes.

After swallowing his pride he asked for his job back, to which a strict Venter agreed on certain conditions.

“I told him if he misbehaved again I would take the leg back,” said Venter.

And when Luvunu went back to his old ways later last year Venter indeed took the prosthetic leg back.

Weeks later Venter enrolled the young man at Alcoholics Anonymous, and that was the last Luvunu touched alcohol. The last drink he had was in November last year. He has been clean since.

On Workers' Day Luvunu together with Venter ran the 42km Wally Hayward Marathon in Centurion.

The Wally Hayward Marathon is a tribute to one of South Africa’s greatest ever athletes and has been a fixture on the road running calendar for the past 40 years.

Levunu said he experienced muscle fatigue during the run, but other than that he felt very energetic on the hills but felt he would like an adjustment for his downhill running.

Next on his list is the engaging 89km Comrades Marathon. “Next year I’m running the Comrades. Watch me do it,” Luvunu said with bravado.

“Today, when you see him hobble on his artificial leg, it isn’t easy to imagine Luvunu’s life story,” said Venter. “I’ve only known father (Venter) for a year but it feels like a lifetime,” said Luvunu.

Pretoria News