Olympian Zola Budd Pieterse inspires Kensington Elementary students

  • Monday, January 27, 2014

Scott Harper/Times Pieterse speaks with students at Kensington Elementary.


“I have lost a lot more races than I have won. I learn more from losing than from winning.”

That was one of the messages former Olympian Zola Budd Pieterse expressed as she spoke with the 5th Grade Leadership Building Assembly at Kensington Elementary School last week.

Pieterse, a two-time world record holder in the women’s 5K, is known as the barefoot runner because she would more often than not compete shoeless.

She began her remarks to the students by explaining what she called her “strange accent.” She said “it’s because I am from South Africa. It is not a strange accent there.”

The 47-year-old and her husband now reside in Myrtle Beach and she is a volunteer coach for Coastal Carolina University.

She told the students she began running at the age of 14 because she was not very good at other sports. She said running is a natural thing in South Africa, so that is how she learned the sport.

She said with both the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics coming up, the students need to know the importance of sportsmanship.

“You usually only see the winners on TV. But there are always lots of people competing and they worked very hard also,” she said. “Wining is not the most important thing. True athletes will tell you what they do is worthwhile, even if they do not win.”

One thing Pieterse did not discuss was her most famous race which was in the 1984 Olympics.

She was 17-years-old at the time and during the 3,000-meter race she collided with runner Mary Decker who was injured as a result and could not complete the event.

Pieterse — known as Zola Budd at the time — was in first place and kept running and finished 6th. She later said she purposely slowed down because she did not want to be booed while accepting a medal.

That incident was the subject of last year’s ESPN Nine for IX series film, “Runner.”

While Pieterse did not talk about that race with the Kensington students she did say “the incident” led to a line of taxis in South Africa being named after her.

“They said it’s because I keep on going,” she said when asked about the cabs.

Pieterse continues to run. In fact, earlier this month she came in first in the Charleston Marathon with a time of 2 hours, 59 minutes and 42 seconds. That time broke the state record for females, age 45-49.

But, Pieterse told the students, if she had not won she would not have been sad.

“If you lose a race, it is not the end of the world. It is a part of life,” she said.

What is the next big race for Pieterse? She plans to participate in the Two Oceans Marathon, a 35-mile ultramarathon in Cape Town, South Africa, which goes from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean and back. It takes place in early April.


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