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Ballito housekeeper-cum-long distance runner is off to run at the New York Marathon

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DURBAN - A BALLITO housekeeper will swop her broom and feather duster for a pair of running shoes when she takes on the New York Marathon in the Big Apple.

Veronica Mthethwa, 34, only started running in 2014, but has already completed several marathons including the Comrades.

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Housekeeper-cum-long distance runner Veronica Mthembu in her work uniform in Ballito, Durban. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/Independent MediaHousekeeper-cum-long distance runner Veronica Mthembu in her work uniform in Ballito, Durban. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/Independent MediaHousekeeper-cum-long distance runner Veronica Mthembu in her practicing ahead of the New York Marathon, Durban. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/Independent Media

“I used to watch the Comrades on television while I did ironing at work and I became fascinated with it. So in 2014 I asked for a day off and went to watch runners as they arrived in Durban. I imagined myself crossing the finishing line with them,” she said.

Mthethwa told her employers, Jody and Peter Cameron, she wanted to run the Comrades the following year. They thought she was joking, simply because she had never participated in a race before.

She started training regularly and they supported her, but they were still not convinced she could finish the Comrades.

With sheer determination, Mthethwa started running two kilometres every day and joined the local running club, the Dolphin Coast Striders.

“I didn’t even have proper running shoes and the pair I had used to bruise my feet, so Peter (Cameron) took me shopping and bought me a new pair. I was so happy. When I put them on I felt like I could run for days. I remember it was the most expensive pair of shoes I had ever owned at that time,” Mthethwasaid.

Before the end of 2014 Mthethwa could finish 42km races. This fuelled her confidence that she could take on the 2015 Comrades Marathon – which she completed in 11:30.

“I was so excited the night before the race, I think I only slept for two hours. Jody and Peter drove me to the starting line and I remember standing among the runners praying to God to help me finish what I was starting because not finishing was not an option,” she recalled.

Jody Cameron said she was worried about Mthethwa because she had cramps and an ankle injury along the route and thought she would not finish on time.

“You should have seen her running towards the finish line with a beaming smile on her face. You could see that she was sore but happy. We were all so proud.”

Last year the Camerons sponsored her Two Oceans Marathon.

Her achievement has not come without sacrifice as the single mother of three has to wake up as early as 3am most mornings to catch a train. She starts work at 6am. She is also on a strict diet and cannot indulge on junk food except on special occasions, such as having a slice of cake on birthdays.

“She is not a domestic worker, she is a runner who works as a domestic.

"We’ve made a promise to her that we are going to help her achieve her dreams but we were all surprised when she told us she wanted to do the New York City Marathon this year,” said Jody Cameron.

The dream of going to the Big Apple was born after Mthethwa joined celebrity athlete Phindi Gule and her husband, Kevin Burley, for a 30km stretch as part of a 900km run for a local charity, LIV Village, last year.

“In December she asked me to put a portion of her bonus aside because she needed to start saving for New York. I couldn’t believe she was actually following through on it. Most of us talk about following our dreams but are often not brave enough to stick it out and pursue them.”

“Unfortunately, she had to take all her savings and rush home to Pongola when her mom, who cares for her three children, was shot in the head on New Year's Eve.

"Thankfully her mom survived but she is unfortunately now blind as a result,” said Peter Cameron.

After calculating the costs for the trip they soon realised that it might take up to two years to raise the necessary funds but they forged ahead.

On Mthethwa’s birthday, February 14, they launched the “Dreaming of New York” page on Facebook pleading with people to help.

“We didn’t know that you needed to pay $2 500 to a charity in order to qualify for the New York Marathon and an additional $385 to enter. Then there are flights, accommodation, meals and transport. But people have been very generous. Leigh Lovett and Vicky Gessner from Flight Centre Associates offered to sponsor the tickets. She’s also got her entry ticket so now we just have to raise funds for the rest because we are not waiting until 2018 – she is going this year,” Cameron said.

Mthethwa said she was overwhelmed by the generosity from people who were strangers to her before the fundraising campaign began.

“People have been really amazing. I’ve also got someone sponsoring my running gear, but I couldn't have come this far without the support of Jody and Peter – they really keep me going even when things seem impossible,” Mthethwa said.

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SUNDAY TRIBUNE

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