Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa: Employees of The Airplane Factory (TAF) will wake up before dawn on Sunday morning and head to FNB Stadium Soweto, where they will join more than 5,000 other people at the start of the Soweto Marathon People’s Race before they work their way through the 42, 21 and 10 km run. It will be the Soweto Marathon’s 25th edition. In all, more than 35,000 runners are expected to participate over various distances throughout Soweto.
Backed by TAF, many of these 165 previously disadvantaged employees have seen the direct benefits of this activity within the workplace. It both motivates and unites, while for some runners, it is a first-time opportunity. Physical fitness, it would seem, is a bonus. While running at this level can be exhausting, it also sharply focuses the mind.
The Airplane Factory based in Eikenhof, Gauteng, are manufacturers of Sling Aircraft. Founded in 2006, they originally consisted of just two employees, its founders, Mike Blyth and James Pitman. Today, it is a multi-million international corporation. Although their global network includes Sling Aircraft official distributors and dealers worldwide, it is their staff count of 165 at Head Office in Johannesburg alone that they count as one of their greatest achievements.
TAF, recognising the benefits of running, are actively encouraging their staff to participate in this activity. They are regular participants in the Orlando Marathon Race Against Cancer as well as the FNB Fun Run but while fun is the name of the game, safety is their number one priority. “The single most important thing for us at TAF is to encourage our staff to participate in this activity whilst remaining injury free,” explains HR Manager, Danielle Pentz. “We encourage running and if our factory staff are injured, it’s game over for a while in terms of our manufacturing business. The correct gear is of utmost importance and an area we do not compromise in any aspect.” All apparel and footwear are sponsored, ensuring their staff are fitted in the correct running gear at zero cost.
Andrew Pitman, Managing Director of The Airplane Factory, says he has always loved running.. “For me running is the quickest and easiest way to remain fit and healthy. I suppose what I especially like about running is that no expensive equipment is required to partake, making it an easy sport for anyone to get involved in.” More South-Africans are hitting the road in their running shoes, many for reasons of health and general wellbeing.
“Running is nothing more than a series of arguments between the part of your brain that wants to stop and the part that wants to keep going. The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare and that finishing a marathon for the TAF Athletics Club confirms our high standard of commitment “ Says Roland Maweja, team captain of the TAF Athletics Club.
For Sonaca Production Manager, Branko Brkljac, a run every morning means stretching himself that extra mile. A year ago, he opted to start running purely to better his health and this was a sport that needed very little by way of equipment. He would run 5 km a day until he began pushing himself to run further for longer, leading to a renewed focus in his goals. Now he concentrates on rhythm, footwork and pace during his runs. “It helps me strategize towards the immediate goal, which is the next step, and this tactic works in the factory during pressure periods,” he says.
Factory worker, Daniel Ndaambi says running marathons in a group makes it that more fun while Shepard Ganu says running has improved his workplace relationships. “It helps me work as a team. We push each other to get better and faster. This has made us more efficient at work.”
Even the shorter distances offer participants a sense of achievement. “I’ve never been a runner but when I completed the Soweto Marathon last year, I felt I’d achieved something I’d never done before,” says TAF receptionist, Helen Kgomo. “It’s made me more alert, I can focus better, energy levels are higher and so is mental toughness. Give me a challenge and I can overcome it. That’s what running has taught me.”
No matter the distance, there is one thing all participants have agreed on. There is something almost deeply meditative about the activity. Running has taught the mind to be patient as Andrew Pitman has discovered for his staff. “Endure the journey however painful or difficult it may be and always set goals! It builds perseverance and teaches you to never give up.’’ With the recent establishment of the TAF Athletics Club, it seems there is no stopping these go-getters, both in the air and on the ground.