Cape Town runner Mervin Steenkamp was given a warm and rapturous welcome at Cape Town International airport on Wednesday afternoon, fresh from his win at a global marathon in Palestine. Steenkamp, a man from an impoverished background, did the Mother City proud when he won the The Right to Movement Palestine Marathon in a time of 2 hours 35 minutes.
Originally from Riversdale, Mervin Steenkamp now lives in Bridgetown and works for the MyCiti service at Cape Town International airport.
Ironically, travelling to Palestine was the first time Steenkamp boarded an aircraft and he says that he was in awe of his experience.
“For me it was amazing to go there and go through all the questions and see how they operate at the borders and it was amazing for me when I entered Bethlehem to see the wall that surrounds the area,” Steenkamp told VOC News.
This is the fourth year that the marathon was hosted and nearly 4,400 people from Palestine and around the world ran in the marathon which organisers say highlighted the restrictive movements of the Palestinian people.
To finish the full marathon, the runners had to complete two laps of a 21-kilometer track.
“When I ran the Marathon, I could literally see how small the place is by completing one loop then having to do another to complete the full marathon,” Steenkamp added.
Steenkamp became interested in the Palestinian issue last year when his sister’s shack burnt down and he was offered help by the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF), an organisation raising money for paediatric healthcare in Palestine.
He says that he decided to use his skills as a runner to run in marathons across the country in order to raise awareness for the Palestinian issue.
Steenkamp took up this challenge with gusto to raise funds for the Huda Al-Masri Paediatric Cancer Department in Gaza, which caters for children with cancer, many of whom have been orphaned.
He had just completed the Two Oceans Marathon before he flew off to Jordan in order to cross the border into Palestine to compete in this now annual challenge.
Steenkamp is a member of the Itheko running club, the largest in South Africa. He was crowned as the club’s Elite Athlete of the Year in 2011 on the back of some impressive performances.
Mervin then struggled to shake off some persistent injuries over the next few years but during the second half of 2015, he started to regain the form that made him one of the club’s best runners. That form saw him selected by Western Province Athletics to train with a select group of athletes specifically for the Two Oceans Ultra marathon.
His couch Frans Pienaar says that it is very difficult for an athlete to compete in back to back marathons, but he is very proud to have an international athlete now in his group.
“I’ve been working with Mervin (Steenkamp) for the past eight years and it is nice to see how he has grown. Mervin’s English has also improved so much that I can’t even handle it anymore,” said his couch jokingly to the crowd that had gathered to welcome the champion home.
Steenkamp’s future plans include running in the Bank of America Chicago marathon that will take place in October of this year and next year he hopes to return to Palestine in order to defend his title as the champion of Bethlehem. VOC (Umarah Hartley)