Popular marathon runner, Nolene Conrad, is finding reason to smile during the Covid-19 lockdown as her newly launched online coaching business takes off and a food fundraising campaign to assist struggling athletes gains momentum. Born in Bishop Lavis, Conrad is no stranger to seeing people in poverty. She is playing her part by rallying her sporting community to help those in dire need..
To date, together with friends and supporters, Conrad has raised R9500, to assist athletes with food parcels and vouchers during the lockdown.
Conrad, whose running career is nearing two decades, is also actively involved with Endurocad – a non-profit company that focusses on athlete performance, career and enterprise development –with South African running legend, Elana Meyer-van Zyl.
Conrad mentors the young women on the program, assists them with their strength training, and developing their careers.She is also hoping to get back to competitive running later this year as she aims to qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which has been postponed until 2021. This has worked in Conrad’s favour as she has just returned from a 14-month long injury and is pacing her running comeback.
Conrad tells Celine Abrahams how she turned running into a career and what she has learnt along the journey to success.
Nolene, it is great to speak to you! How’s life been under COVID-19 lockdown? I’ve been really busy during lockdown, but at the same time also trying to keep a good work/life balance. It’s been tough to be confined to one space, to work from home, to not physically see my friends and family.
However, I must say I am even more grateful now than ever before, realising I have a roof over my head, I am healthy and have friends and family who care. So, I have been looking after myself, taking time out to do things I like and working hard to get my online coaching business off the ground.
I just launched my online coaching business last week and people can check it out on my website- www.noleneconrad.co.za
How are you managing to keep sane during this time?
I exercise daily, which helps a lot. I have two sessions a day. I will walk or run in the morning and then in the afternoon I’ll do my strength work. During the day I work, so by being busy it actually takes my mind off the current lockdown situation.
“I stay connected with friends and family and working on my new business venture keeps me motivated and inspired.” – South African marathon runner, Nolene Conrad
I try and stay positive and not to obsess too much about the news. I stay connected with friends and family and working on my new business venture keeps me motivated and inspired. For some down time, I do some reading, gardening and cooking.
Please tell us about the food relief fund for athletes in need that is currently taking place.
I set up a fundraising campaign to assist athletes in dire need of food. Many of our provincial athletes survive off prize monies from races. In many cases they are sole providers for their families as well, so they rely on this source of income. These are the athletes that are not contracted by elite clubs, so they don’t get paid. I realised there is a gap in the system as no one really takes care of this group of athletes. Hence me reaching out to them, and there has been an overwhelming response of athletes needing help.
I also reached out to a few clubs I know might have athletes that are in need of food relief and I am working with them to assist those athletes. Thus far I have raised R9500 with the help of friends and supporters that have donated generously. It’s heart-warming to see our running community come together to support this cause.
I have already started assisting some athletes via online food vouchers and will make food packages for a few athletes in and around my area.
Givengain link: https://www.givengain.com/ap/nolene-conrad-raising-funds-for-endurocad-sa-endurance-academy-/
What advice would you give to athletes who are presently facing challenges?
You are accountable for your own future despite the difficult situation you are facing you need to realise that your choices now will determine your success. Don’t give up on your dreams, don’t be discouraged, you can still achieve them. You have to show up, set small goals for yourself each day and keep the commitments you make to yourself that’s really important.
“Many athletes might be stressing about races and the uncertainty right now but stressing about that will not help. It’s out of your control, stay positive.” – Conrad encourages athletes who are facing challenges to remain positive.
Mindset is everything during this time. Look for the good in the situation. Use it as an opportunity to grow and learn new skills. Don’t overthink it, focus on what you can control. Many athletes might be stressing about races and the uncertainty right now but stressing about that will not help. It’s out of your control, stay positive.
Please tell us about your journey in athletics and where it all began for you.
My journey began when I was 16 years old, I started running because I wanted to overcome chronic asthma. Never did I imagine that I would come to love it or that it would become my career.
For years I suffered, failed to complete races, ended up in hospital beds as running at first made it worse. But then when I was in matric, I realised I had a hidden talent and I fell in love with the sport. I was inspired, motivated and determined to make it work. Coming from a tough background, growing up in Bishop Lavis and providing for our household since the age of 17 together with health problems has made me resilient.
Did you always want to pursue a career in athletics?
No, I was advised by my doctor to try running to improve my lung capacity and hopefully give me a chance to outgrow asthma.
What would you say has been the biggest highlights of your career so far?
Achieving World Athletics Gold Label Status in 2018. This was the highest label status an international athlete could achieve back then, now they have introduced platinum label. Being a Gold Label status was awesome, it meant I could get an invite to any major marathon across the globe. I got paid appearance fee and travel and accommodation was all covered. I achieved it by finishing in 25th position at the World Half Marathon in Valencia, Spain.
The Olympic Games were supposed to take place this year, however COVID-19 had other plans. With more time on your hands to prepare for the global showpiece, how are you planning to use the next few months building up to the event?
I have just recovered from a long-term injury, so I have lots of work to do and using the time to get stronger and build myself up.
“So, depending on my progress and the situation with COVID-19 I will look at running a marathon towards the end of the year to qualify.” – Conrad speaks on qualifying for the Olympic Games in 2021.
So, depending on my progress and the situation with COVID-19 I will look at running a marathon towards the end of the year to qualify.
Initially, how did you feel when you heard that all sporting events had to be cancelled due to the pandemic?
To be honest I was a bit disappointed because I was really looking forward to getting back on the road. But on the other hand, I could not rush back into racing so it’s a blessing in disguise for me. I needed time to build myself up again and get fit.
On the positive side, World Athletics announced that international events will be going ahead from later this year. How do you feel about this prospect?
Honestly, I am relieved. I would not have been ready for Olympics this year! I am coming back from a 14-month long injury and I still had to run a qualifier. So, with Olympics being moved to 2021 I have a realistic chance.
What do you think about female athletes and the recognition that they receive?
I think media is doing a great job in that we are seeing more female athletes in the news. There are even changes with activewear brands including women in their campaigns.
I would like to see more credit been given to female athletes for their social activism. There are many female athletes involved in social activism, but we rarely hear or read about it. They should get as much recognition as the male athletes for what they are doing.
What changes would you like to see when it comes to women’s sport?
There has been a noticeable change in that more and more organisations are profiling and focusing on women’s development. However, we still have some way to go. I know at Endurocad we have also shifted our focus to females, as there is still is a lack of women pursuing sport.
One of the reasons many young women don’t make it to pro level is that lack of support and opportunities. So, I would like to see more corporate companies supporting women like they do with the males.
“Many of our young women choose to take up offers for scholarships abroad as they offer more support. I would like to see our universities come on board and offer full scholarships for young women.” – Conrad urges universities to back more of their young female athletes.
Many of our young women choose to take up offers for scholarships abroad as they offer more support. I would like to see our universities come on board and offer full scholarships for young women.
Apart from your athletics career, what else are you involved in?
I work as an athlete’s manager at Endurocad with Elana Meyer Van Zyl. Endurocad is a non-profit company that focusses on athlete performance, career and enterprise development. I mentor the young women on the program, assist them with their strength training, and developing their careers, etc. This is my dream job! I am doing what I love, with the best boss ever and making a difference in young peoples lives.
I am also an ambassador for women for change (catch me if you can). I do engagements for companies, clubs and communities. I was involved in the organisation of the Sanlam Cape Town marathon the last three years, working with the development and elite athletes.
What advice do you normally share with younger athletes who are looking to make a success in the running community?
Plan for life after sport, study so that you are not just relying on your sport. I can’t stress enough the importance of education to young athletes and I always encourage them to take advantage of the opportunities. If you are educated, you can empower yourself, make smart choices, take responsibility for your own performance and this makes you more valuable.
What is your greatest sporting ambition?
To finish in the top 3 at a Gold label Marathon and finish in top 10 at an Olympic Marathon.
What are you looking to do after your running career?
I hope to grow my online coaching business to be a lucrative business for me five years from now, write a book about my journey and own my own coffee shop.
Photo 1 Caption: South African marathon runner, Nolene Conrad, is thriving, despite the Covid-19 lockdown that has hampered her running career, as she launched her online coaching business and food fundraising campaign for struggling athletes. Photo: Supplied
Photo 2 Caption: Born in Bishop Lavis, Conrad is no stranger to seeing people in poverty and to play her part, she has gone above and beyond to help those in dire need. Photo: Supplied
Photo 3 Caption: To date, together with friends and supporters, Conrad has managed to raise R9500 to assist athletes with food parcels and vouchers during the lockdown. Photo: Supplied
Photo 4 Caption: Despite her running career, which began 19 years ago, Conrad is actively involved with Endurocad – a non-profit company that focusses on athlete performance, career and enterprise development – together with South African running legend, Elana Meyer-van Zyl. Photo: Supplied
Photo 5 Caption: Conrad is also hoping to get back onto the running scene later this year as she aims to qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which has cancelled this year – all in Conrad’s favour as she has just returned from a 14-month long injury and cannot rush back into racing. Photo: Supplied