Another chapter in Wynberg Boys’ High’s Comrades story

Wynberg Boys High School staffers Esmund van Wyk, left, and Blake Rimmer competed in the Comrades Marathon earlier this month. Picture: Supplied

Two Wynberg Boys’ High School staff members set off from Pietermaritzburg on the down-run of the 96th Comrades Marathon, the world’s oldest and longest ultra-marathon on Sunday June 11.

Esmund van Wyk, the school’s director of cricket, and Blake Rimmer, head of Grade 8, competed in the Two Oceans Marathon in April. Both were awarded the Robert Mtshali Medal, which is presented to runners who finish between nine and ten hours.

Mr Rimmer describes the Comrades as the “ultimate human race”, saying, “Five months of training all boiled down to a chilly 4-degree start outside Pietermaritzburg City Hall. The gun fired, and the most incredible nine hours and 47 minutes of my life started. On a road filled with music, smiles, braais, and an overflow of gees, I found myself smiling non-stop along the road between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.”

Despite doing Comrades for the fourth time, Mr Van Wyk says it does not get any easier.

“It humbled me once again. I had a hard day but pushed through loads of pain to get that much-desired medal.”

While their running achievements are well known to the Wynberg community, what is perhaps less well known are Wynberg Boys’ High School’s historic links to the Comrades Marathon, says Chris Merrington, a Wynberg old boy and the school’s digital media coordinator

The founder of the race, Vic Clapham, was a Wynberg old boy, who matriculated in 1904. Additionally, Phil Masterton-Smith, the youngest winner ever, made history in 1931 just months shy of his 20th birthday. Masterton-Smith was an old boy too who matriculated in 1929.

“It is perhaps serendipitous that Vic Clapham was finally given permission to hold the first Comrades Marathon in 1921, the same year that Wynberg adopted Supera Moras as our motto – Clapham’s founding concept was to celebrate and honour the spirit of his World War I fallen comrades in a race of endurance to test both body and mind. And while thousands have succeeded in the challenge, and many have become household names in their efforts in the race, few can match the extraordinary story of Masterton-Smith,” says Mr Merrington.

Supera Moras can be translated from Latin as “overcome difficulties”.

Masterton-Smith competed in the marathon several times. He came in second in 1930, won in 1931 and was placed 6th in 1932, according to Comrades Marathon records. However, the journey he undertook to make the race during the Great Depression has developed into the Unogwaja Challenge, a 10-day, 1 660km cycle from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg to take part in the Comrades Marathon on the 11th day.

“In 1933, Masterton-Smith could not afford the train fare to Pietermaritzburg for the start of the Comrades Marathon. He got on his bike and cycled there. Today his courage and determination in the face of adversity are at the core of the Unogwaja Challenge, which has become an annual journey that started in 2011,” says the Unogwaja Challenge website.

Inspired by Masterton-Smith’s story of willpower, former Wynberg Boys’ High School hockey coach and Bishops old boy John MacInroy, along with Paul Blake and brothers WP and Lourens van Zyl, cycled from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg and ran the Comrades the next day in 2011. The four cyclists were escorted for the first 50km of the ride by the Wynberg Boys’ High School Cycling Club, says Mr Merrington.

While many Wynberg old boys have claimed the prized Comrades medals over the last century, Mr Van Wyk and Mr Rimmer are the school’s first staff duo.

Phil Masterton-Smith, the youngest ever Comrades Marathon winner, once cycled from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg to make the race in 1933. Photograph: Supplied