One leg enough for man with iron resolve

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He’s not letting the fact that he has only one leg stand in the way of competing in the arduous Standard Bank Ironman African Championship on Sunday.Xolani Luvuno, 34, who has gone from being high on hard drugs such as mandrax and nyaope to being an awe-inspiring athlete, has undoubtedly led a challenging life after having his leg amputated as a result of bone cancer in 2008.Earlier, during his teenage years, he had dropped out of school in Port Elizabeth and turned to a life of crime, which led to some jail time.After his grandmother’s death in 2000, Luvuno left Port Elizabeth for Pretoria, where he slept under a bridge and had to beg for money.But, despite adversity, Luvuno is not feeling sorry for himself.“My challenges are not my enemies,” said.“Yes, I have one leg, but that’s not an excuse.”The former Motherwell resident admitted to stealing from his family and robbing people in the township to support his drug habit – actions which led to his imprisonment.“I was raised by my grandmother and my uncle and things were good, but because of negative influences I ended up doing drugs,” he said.“But I’m not blaming anyone for the choices I made, I blame myself.”He said after his grandmother died he lived with his uncle.“Because of the drug habit, I started to steal my uncle’s things. I started stealing small things at home like kettles and irons to buy my mandrax.“From there I then started stealing in the location and I also robbed people.”Luvuno said he decided to leave Port Elizabeth for Pretoria after the community got fed up with his criminality.“I didn’t want them [the community] to burn my grandmother’s house, because that’s what happened when someone was going around destroying the community.“I ended up on the streets [in Pretoria].”Living on the streets and still addicted to drugs, Luvuno said he began “not feeling” mandrax and then started injecting himself with the notorious street drug nyaope.“To get drugs was not easy because you’re supposed to steal [to get money] or if you don’t steal, you have to beg – it’s a hustle.”Luvuno’s life took a huge turnaround when he met Pretoria businessman Hein Venter in March 2016.“He [Luvuno] used to beg at a robot which is halfway between home and work, so I used to drive past him twice a day,” Venter said.Venter, who Luvuno refers to as his father and coach, then offered the amputee a job at his perfume factory and had him fitted for a prosthetic leg.“He was obviously vulnerable and he looked like this friendly, chirpy little laaitie and I knew I was in a position to make a difference.“Obviously the fact that he’s an amputee and more vulnerable than most beggars gave me more sympathy for him,” Venter said.“You know, you don’t ever do these things expecting anything from it – you just want to make a difference. I’ve got this saying that the cost of R100 in my wallet versus the value of that R100 to somebody else is not the same.”While he had ditched drugs, Luvuno said he continued to abuse alcohol – but after some tough love from Venter, he stopped drinking.“Mr Hein told me, ‘Xolani, you can’t solve one problem with another problem’.”It was then that Luvuno replaced his substance abuse with a new addiction – running. And with his newfound passion, he joined the Pretoria Sunbird Striders running club.“I started with [running] 5km, then after that I made 10km because every weekend I went to the race,” he said. “I ended up running 42km.” In 2018, Luvuno and Venter stood at the starting line of the Comrades Marathon five hours prior to the big race. The organisers had allowed them a head start due to Xolani having a disadvantage to other athletes.While training for the Comrades, Luvuno’s stump had contracted an infection and he was forced to race the marathon with his crutches instead of using his running blade.Despite the challenge, 15 hours and 50 minutes later, they both received an emotional welcome over the finish line.In January, the courageous athlete took on the Ironman 70.3 South Africa in Buffalo City, which consisted of a 1.9km swim, 90km cycle and 21.1km run.Participating with Venter, and starting the race the same time as the other athletes, Luvuno finished before the cutoff time of eight hours and 30 minutes.About Sunday’s twice-as-tough Ironman event – 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and 42.2km run – Luvuno said: “I’m just looking at finishing before the cut-off time, that’s my aim.”Luvuno said he did not compare himself to other people.“Don’t look at what you don’t have and what other people have.“Look at what you do have, because I have this one leg and I don’t look at your two legs.“They are yours, not mine. Yes, life is difficult, but just stay strong and trust yourself.”

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