I first met Sonja Laxton about 20 years ago when we were introduced by my mother, a keen road runner, after a 10km race.
Frightened to my core at meeting someone I held in such high esteem, I could not bring myself to look her in the eye as she gave me her signature with a smile.
Laxton, now 65, is as ubiquitous at Gauteng road races as water sachets and red paper cups. An elite athlete in her prime and a pioneer of women’s athletics, her longevity has been incredible.
But while I’ve been running since I was eight years old and now cover the sport, I met Laxton for only the second time last week, just five days before she was involved in a hit-and-run.
This time, two decades after our first encounter, I summoned up courage to speak to her.
A delightful woman, Laxton is an instrumental ambassador for SA road running, which makes it all the more sickening that she could be left battered and broken, lying helpless on the tar.
After being bitten by a dog while running as a teenager, I learned to carry a stone on training runs, to scare off yapping hounds that escaped the confines of their gardens.
As I’ve got older, and a little braver in confrontations with dogs, I still carry a stone, but it is now aimed at the occasional car that gets too close for comfort – more in frustration and a show of defiance than an attempt to cause damage to the vehicle.
Roads are made for cars, not runners, but there is a shortage of paths to accommodate pedestrians in Gauteng, forcing them onto the tar, often tucked inside a solid line of faded paint that is hardly wide enough to accommodate a single person.
Kim Laxton says her mom is understandably wary of vehicles and would not dare run across an intersection without checking first for oncoming cars, but drivers can be careless. I’ve literally had to jump out the way of oncoming vehicles on many occasions.
I was furious to hear what happened to Laxton, while numerous recent and ongoing court cases continue to highlight the dangers faced by runners and cyclists on South Africa’s roads.
The problem is, if I want to go for a run, I often don’t have a choice, and I expect my fellow citizens to respect my presence, and my safety, by giving me a narrow berth if I’m forced to run on the road.
Each time someone is hit by a car while training, I become more cautious in my approach, tip-toeing in fear along some roads as I try to avoid collisions that could threaten my life.
I will continue to demonstrate my contempt when I’m training, but I will now carry two stones – one to be flung on my own behalf, and the other on Laxton’s.