Tributes for big-hearted runner

Willie Gagiano, a member of Goodwood Harriers Athletic Club, right, died last week.

Friends, family and the running community
paid tribute to one of the most recognisable
faces in road running, Willlie Gagiano. 

The
big man with the big smile, who was a member of Goodwood Harriers, passed away on
Wednesday last week after losing his battle
with cancer. 
It was impossible to miss Gagiono in road
races, not only for his huge stature but how
he always enjoyed road running. 
As difficult
as the task of running is, he is one of the few
who always ran with a smile on his face. The
running community called him the face of
determination and perseverance. 
Goodwood Harrier’s Randy Pieterse says
as big as Gagiono was, his heart was bigger
than his body and he was always full of
laughter on the road. 
“I can hear Dean Hewitt the MC getting
short of breath as he shouted ‘Willie, Willie,
Wilie’ and Willie coming at high speed past
the gazebos and high 5s over the finish line. Willie was friends with everybody and
was best known for his permanent smile.” 
Pieterse says while he was a proud member of Harriers, he was very much a part
of every runner. While he had a medical
challenge, giving up on a race was never
an option. 
“We sometimes finished the races with
a minute or so to spare, but always made
the cut-off. Then his famous words to me, ‘Nee
jong ek is ‘n Harrier en ek eet nie van die
gras af nie’, then a burst of laughter and a
bear hug.
“We were looking forward to do so many
great races together, like the Festival of Running 50km and the Soweto half marathon
and now I have to do it alone. He might
be gone but will never be forgotten,” said
Pieterse. 

Running mate, Ally Kibby remembered
how she first met up with Gagiona, on the
road among the running community. 

She recalled a particular occasion she
says she will never forget when she fell and
hurt herself before one of the races she was
taking part in even started. 

With her running with an injury and
Gagiano pushing to finish before the cut-off
time, they decided to team up, struggling
together as they kept pushing each other
towards the finish line – the start of a lifelong friendship began that day.
“I’m going to miss his silhouette, I’m
going to miss his chuckle, soft and gentle,
but more so, I am going to miss his big
heart. He was one of a kind and will always
be missed,”said Kibby