Collen Makaza living his dream

Ellina Mhlanga Sports Reporter

GROWING up in the rural areas of Musana and having to find his way to stardom in long-distance running played a part in influencing Collen Makaza’s decision to form an athletics club to assist upcoming athletes and he has so far done well in that area.

The two-time International Association of Ultra-runners 50km World title winner runs the Mr Pace-Maxed Zimbabwe Athletics Club, formerly Mr Pace that have produced some of the country’s promising long-distance runners in recent years.

The likes of Betha Chikanga, Caroline Mhandu, Anna Bungu, Canisious Nyamutsita and Tatenda Hove have become some of the regular faces in local road races and managed to challenge seasoned athletes for the top spots.

The club based at Seke 6 High School in Chitungwiza so far caters for 22 athletes. The club also works with some junior athletes from the school.

For Makaza this is something he had always dreamt about and coupled with the fact that he had to find his way among the top in his chosen field on his own made him work towards turning his dream into a reality.

“I started dreaming of having my own club when I was still young. In 2007 I joined hands with another athlete who was my friend, Moses Njodzi. That time the club was called MAK-JOZ that was from 2007 to 2009. Then we had to break up because my friend said it’s not working.

“We didn’t have any sponsor but I kept on doing my thing, helping athletes to compete in international races in South Africa.

“In 2009 we organised Mr Pace marathon. We did it back-to-back, in 2009 and 2010. We did not have any sponsor and we had no money. So I went back to our community in Chitungwiza and I volunteered to coach for free at this school for us to use the grounds,” said Makaza.

Makaza says giving back to the community had a huge impact on his career as an athlete as he took up various coaching courses to equip himself with the knowledge needed to pursue his passion.

It also changed his fortunes as it marked improved results for him in the races he competed in.

“I think everything is now shaping up because I am now a more qualified coach. I got my IAAF Level Two in September in Kenya. I want to thank the National Athletics Association of Zimbabwe for sending me to Kenya to upgrade my coaching.

“I have produced some good athletes like Betha Chikanga, Caroline Mhandu, Winfred Mutiro and Carnisios Wenjere, an upcoming athlete, as well as Tatenda Hove.

“When I started coaching that’s when my running also started improving because I had no coach. I was working on my own and when I went to Black Rhinos we were just going there to join a group of runners and we did anything they were doing on that particular day.

“It also influenced my decision to form this club because I was not the only one who didn’t have a coach, there were many of us who were coming to join the group. But as you go on, mainly in long-distance there is individuality, the programme that works for me may not benefit the next athlete.

“So when I started coaching that’s when I started running better,” said Makaza.

Some of the highlights in his career include winning the IAU 50km World twice in 2010 and in 2014.

In 2016 he came second in Two Oceans Ultra marathon behind fellow Zimbabwean Mike Fokorani.

The club works with athletes from different backgrounds and some of the athletes that have found a home at Makaza’s club include Wenjere, who says since joining the club he has had several opportunities.

“I was introduced to coach Makaza by my former coach who worked with me in primary school. I have made a lot of progress since I joined this club.

“I am grateful for the support I have received. Most of the stuff we need for running, we get it from here. I used to fail to go for races and I could not afford to buy running spikes for myself because I could not raise the funds. But this has opened doors for me and I hope for a better life in the future.

“I grew up in Marondera but I now stay with coach Makaza. He is passionate about the sport and I believe he can help me reach my goals,” said Wenjere

Muchaneta Gwata, who is based in Chitungwiza, shared the same sentiments.

“I have been running since 2001 when I was at Kuwadzana High School. Then I moved here in 2014 that’s when I joined Mr Pace and it’s not just about athletics, I have gained a lot from training to life lessons.

“To be successful you need to be disciplined and the coach really pushes us to meet our targets. The other advantage is he has won some races himself so it inspires us as well,” said Gwata.

Makaza says his desire is to see his athletes realise their full potential and live their dreams.

“There is a lot of raw talent in Zimbabwe, so you feel that everybody can run and this is the cheapest sport in the business of sport but people don’t take it seriously. It takes a lot to do this, you have to have the passion for this because there are a lot of challenges. But I keep pushing because I want to groom champions. That’s my vision.

“The challenges are many. At first we didn’t have a place for our training but now that is sorted. Another challenge is sponsorship. The way we run this sport is different from the way they run it internationally.

“For example in South Africa, it’s professional and they have sponsors but here in Zimbabwe, economically, things are tough right now but we have never really had big sponsorship coming our way. So it takes passion and the love of sport and sometimes I have to make some sacrifices to keep going.

“At the beginning I didn’t want the athletes to pay but starting from last January (2019) they started paying something. For this to go on they pay me 12 percent of their winning prize money,” said Makaza.

Despite the many challenges it’s not all gloomy as the club is in a three-year partnership with South Africa-based company Mr Price for the provision of kit and running shoes. The partnership is running until the end of this year.

They are also supporting the club’s cross-country event to take place later on this month in Chitungwiza.

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