“My disease will not keep me off my feet. I will keep running…”
Ipeleng Khunou from Sonop has defied all the odds stacked against him. Despite suffering from septo-optic dysplasia, a rare condition that affects eyesight and balance, he is running 21 km half marathons on crutches and is currently preparing for the Two Oceans race in April.
“I run better than I walk and I love running. My goal and dream is to be a professional athlete and to have running on crutches acknowledged as a sport,” the inspiring man told Kormorant.
Ipeleng was born with the disease but it was only identified six years ago. “I grew up on crutches and was categorised as a diplegic. No one could ever really tell me what exactly was wrong.”
Ipeleng attended Meerhof School in Hartbeespoort. “In 2013 I visited an optometrist and she told me I should see an eye specialist who then determined that there was pressure on my eyes. Neurological tests were done and finally the head of the neurological faculty at the Baragwanath Hospital identified my condition. He told me it was the first time he has encountered the disease. Finally I had a title, but it changed nothing in my life,” Ipeleng laughs.
He dabbled in disabled sport at school but it fell by the wayside when he went on to study marketing at the Pretoria Technikon. “Unfortunately I had to quit my studies in my second year due to financial circumstances but was lucky enough to find a job in the marketing field.”
In 2016 his life came to crossroads. “I weighed 120 kg, putting strain on my body and my mind and I decided I cannot put myself through this any longer. I decided to start running in order to lose weight. It was not easy at first but then I discovered that it made me feel good and I was hooked. A year later I had lost 40 kg and completed the Om die Dam 10 km race. I was so proud of myself.”
That was that, and Ipeleng knew running was his future. Since then he has run the Wally Hayward 21 km marathon, the 2018 Two Oceans, the Sowetan Marathon and various smaller races against able bodies competitors. He also participated in the Ocal Journey for Change, a 10-day relay race. To change perceptions of disability, he ran 157 kilometres from Pretoria to Cape Town.
“Running on crutches is not regarded as a a sport and there are no special categories to compete in. I am told running on crutches is too dangerous, but is it less dangerous to run blind?”
For the majority of people running on crutches is unthinkable, but Ipeleng is surprisingly fast. Also known as The Crutch Runner or Crazy Legs, he moves with astonishing agility and has finished the 21 km races in just over three hours. “Running on crutches comes with a lot of challenges. It is very taxing on the body and mind,” he says.
He suffers from cramps and pain but that is not going to stop him. “I love running and for me it is not about speed, I run with a purpose and there is nothing like the feeling when you cross that finish line,” he says. “My dream is to have a category for crutch-running created in the sports world and I compete in any and as many races as I can to create awareness for this. The ultimate goal is to get the Paralympics committee to afford me a trial run. This is my only chance to become a pro athlete.” The law clinic at the University of Pretoria, where Ipeleng also trains, is assisting him with this.
His training schedule is hard. He is up at 03:00 and runs until 06:00. Later in the day, he spends more hours in the gymnasium.
Currently he is working hard at getting sponsors to back him for the Two Oceans marathon. “I am busy with a fundraising campaign where I collect sports jerseys that will be auctioned off later this year. The idea is also to buy 100 disabled children smart crutches like mine out of the proceeds of the auction.”
Ipeleng is the epitome of where there is a will, there is a way. “I am running for a dream and I will not stop running.”
If anyone wants to get involved in sponsoring Ipeleng, contact him on 079 181 3775 or visit his Facebook page Ipeleng Khunou.