What I've learnt: Zola Budd
The barefoot running legend from Bloem on finding balance in life, dealing with disaster and why Africa is in her soul
Former world record holder, world cross-country champion and British Olympian, Zola Budd is perhaps best known for the 1984 Olympic 3000 metre final in which American Mary Dekker tripped and fell. She has dealt with apartheid outrage, the pressure of fame, and the joy of bringing up a family.
I've learnt not to take my life too seriously. That is probably the most important lesson I've learnt. You will make mistakes and things will go wrong. It's inevitable and you have to learn to deal with that. I've also learnt the importance of balance in my life. You can't put too much emphasis on any one thing or it takes over your life. When I was running as a professional athlete, that meant everything to me - if I had a bad race, then I had a bad day. But whether it's running, work or family, you need a sense of balance.
1984 taught me to take meaning from everything. It's important to come to terms with things that don't go well and to find meaning from them. I look back at the Olympics in 1984 and realise what I learnt there was that life does go on. My life carried on after that, it didn't suddenly end. After the Olympics, I had a great year running-wise. At the time, the Olympics was all that mattered. But if I had to go back now and run that race again, it wouldn't even feature in the top 10 experiences I've had. It's just another incident in my life. You have to learn from bad experiences and then put them behind you and move on.
Being in the media is not always a good thing. It's not always a positive experience to be on the front page of the newspapers or in the headlines. The same people who are writing about your running and how well you are doing are the same people who are writing other stories about you - ones that aren't always so nice or positive. You have to accept that, to know who you are, and to be comfortable with it. You can't get absorbed by trying to be the public figure that people want you to be, or responding to how the media portrays you.
Being a mother is my most important role. We have a normal family life at home. To my kids, I'm the person who cooks and cleans and looks after them. They know about my running and what has happened, but it's not something we talk about. I have a responsibility to my kids as a mother and that's important to me. Most of the lessons that I've learnt have come from my kids, not from my running experiences. I think that as you get older and experience more of life, you become more open to learning and understanding. When I was younger, when running was my life, I wasn't as open to learning as I am now. Having kids and being a mother has been a big part of that.
Running is my therapy. I run for myself now. When I was younger, running was outcome-based and all that mattered was the result, the time, the medal. Now it doesn't matter what my time is, what the result is. I enjoy running, but it's on my own terms and it's a part of my life, not all of it.
South Africa is my home. I was born in Africa. I always tell people that when you're born here, you have Africa in your soul, a certain colour to your skin, and it stays there forever. This will always be my home. There's a connection to nature here, something that you can't quite explain. Moving to America was never permanent.
My goals for the future are to continue to grow spiritually as a person. My family is also extremely special. Having a family is a great privilege and watching my kids grow up and continuing to be a good mother to them is something I'm looking forward to. And one day perhaps I'll become a grandmother.
There are more challenges ahead. Although the results aren't important to me anymore, there are other challenges I'd like to take on. Maybe I'll do an Ironman one day.
Never give up hope. South Africa is an amazing country to live in - travelling the world has taught me that - but it has its challenges. Everywhere does. Kids today often get disenchanted as they reach the early stages of adulthood, make irresponsible choices, get involved in the wrong crowd or the wrong sort of activity. You have to keep hanging on and not give up hope. That's what I tell my own kids, and that would be my message to young South Africans.
- Budd, born and brought up in Bloemfontein, is running her first Comrades Marathon today.