The two hardest time-based medals to earn at Comrades are the Wally Hayward for men and the silver for women. Just 17 women (0.5% of the ladies’ field) earned the medal this year. Surprisingly, considering South African demographics, this year’s Comrades saw only two black ladies finishing under 7h30 to earn a gold or silver medal – one of these was Enie Manzini.
Who is Enie Manzini?
An inspirational athlete, firefighter, paramedic, single mom and all-round superheroine. She is also a survivor of domestic violence.
Sadly, superheroes need a villain to battle – and hers came in the form of her husband, the father of her children.
The cycle of physical abuse started shortly after her daughter was born in 2006.
Her husband liked to go out often, partying and drinking. However, he thought his wife’s place was in the home and strongly disapproved of Enie’s running. Although most of her runs were done before the rest of the household woke up, he accused her of neglecting the family and putting running ahead of him. He showed his displeasure in the form of frequent and merciless beatings.
Regrettably, this story of domestic violence is all too common in our society. It’s one of the barriers that prevents many of our female athletes from reaching their potential and shining on the local and international stage. Even when Enie managed to obtain a protection order against her husband the beatings continued.
The turning point in Enie’s life came in 2016 while carboloading for the Deloitte Pretoria Marathon. She had just mixed a batch of 32Gi and took a large sip. It tasted bitter. Heart palpitations, sweating and disorientation soon followed. She carefully inspected the carbohydrate tub and noticed tiny yellow pellets mixed into the powder. She had been poisoned.
Her 10-year old daughter came to her aid with a glass of milk to help neutralise the poison and Enie managed to drive herself to the hospital. She realised that she’d had a lucky escape and filed for divorce as soon as she was discharged from the hospital.
Going from Good to Great
Enie endured ten years of constant fear and abuse but still held onto her dreams. Freed from an oppressive home environment, she was suddenly able to realise them. After what she’d been through, balancing being a single mom with a full-time job and part-time studies was easy. She went from being a good to a great runner.
She ran personal bests over almost every distance and brought her Comrades time down from well over 8-hours to 7h36. She even managed to win a couple of lowkey night races. Suddenly she was a contender.
In January 2017, Enie lined up alongside 3,300 other marathoner runners at Benoni’s Johnson Crane Marathon. Johnson Crane is the first major marathon of the year on the South African highveld. The field was full of Comrades gold medallists but there was a surprise winner in the women’s race – Enie Manzini.
Enie always dreamed of being an elite ultra marathon runner. In many ways this was kept her going during those long years of hardship. The elusive dream now seemed possible.
Then one winter’s morning in 2017 the phone rang. Enie answered and could hardly contain her excitement when Ann Ashworth said she was forming an elite women’s running team and would like Enie to be part of it. The dream was now a reality. Enie puts is simply, “It was at that moment I knew God had answered my prayers.”
Going from Great to Elite
This year was Enie’s seventh Comrades and the first time she cracked silver. Running for Team Massmart in Puma Speed 100Rs, she eventually finished the largest and most competitive ultra marathon in the world in 18th position with a time of 7h21. Enie was on track for an even quicker time before stomach problems resulted in a couple of unplanned stops over the last third of the race.
Enie produced some solid Comrades performances in the past (with five sub 9-hour Bill Rowans to her credit) but admits that she used to cheat on her training and dreaded doing track and speed work.
Team Massmart was formed to develop talented female athletes into elites (primarily focussing on the ultra marathon distance). Club captain, Ann Ashworth, explains, “We have tried to identify young talent, ladies who were not already running for elite teams, with a view to building them up into great athletes. Each lady is mentored and guided through her training and racing, the idea being that we want the whole team to learn, grow and develop on equal footing. Massmart and Puma (as shoe sponsor) have been exceptional in their support of these athletes and have made a huge difference in the lives of each athlete.”
The results speak for themselves. Team Massmart’s success rate in this regard has been nothing short of spectacular – and Enie has been one of the many beneficiaries.
Enie highlighted the role that good coaching, nutritional advice and training support played in her running transformation into an elite athlete – as well as the change in mindset and drive that comes from being part of a professional team, “Joining Team Massmart motivated me, it’s a great experience and an inspiration for me to be part of this team. To be in an elite team has changed my running completely.”
“Enie is a shining light within our team – her passion for running, tenacity and dedication, combined with her soft-spoken, kind-hearted character, roll together into one formidable runner and the ultimate team player.” – Ann Ashworth (Team Massmart captain)
Enie, was also part of a bigger success. Although this was Team Massmart’s first appearance at Comrades (they were only founded in October 2017), they trounced their more fancied rivals to win the Elite Women’s Team prize at Comrades. The prize is awarded to the team whose fastest four members have the best average time.
All the Team Massmart runners taking part in Comrades ran personal bests. Ann Ashworth led from the front for a famous victory (she had never even won a gold medal in her seven previous Comrades starts but demolished the rest of the field with a 6h10 finish) – and in addition to Enie she was ably supported by Mia Morrison (17th in 7h16 on her Comrades debut), Nandi Zaloumis (20th in 7h21 which was her first silver medal at the fifth attempt) and Jenni Kruse (30th narrowly missing out on a silver medal by 90 seconds).
What’s next for Enie?
Enie continues to empower herself academically with further studies, to grow spiritually through involvement in her church and plans to enhance the physical side of her life by training for triathlons as a future challenge.
As for running goals, she recently finished second (just behind Ann Ashworth) at the Midrand Striders Half Marathon. But don’t expect to see too much of Enie at the races – Team Massmart provides the necessary support for their team members to ensure that they don’t over race. They want to make sure they retain the Elite Women’s Team title at next year’s Comrades – and Enie plans to be up there again with an even stronger performance, perhaps even a gold medal.
There is an outdated maxim that, “Behind every successful man there stands a woman.” Unfortunately, the corollary – that behind every women not achieving her dreams, there is usualy a man holding her back – still applies.
Enie Manzini is a great example of someone who has held onto her dreams, struggled through tremendous adversity and is just now starting to blossom and realise her potential.
The original version of this story did not cover the domestic violence aspect. Enie asked me to add it as she wanted to make it clear that, although it’s difficult, you can be a mom, have a career and still have aspirations to achieve your dreams. Being in an abusive relationship was the only factor holding her back. She is a brave woman who wanted to share her story to help motivate and inspire other women – especially those who might be in a similar situation to hers.
Enie is a hero. Enie broke the shackles. Enie is realising her dreams.
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