Jenna Challenor takes over from injured Nick Bester in Battle of the Sports

Long-distance athlete to join running team in the desert-based endurance challenge and fundraiser

10 September 2020 - 16:18
Long-distance star Jenna Challenor in action.
Long-distance star Jenna Challenor in action.
Image: Supplied

SA professional long-distance runner Jenna Challenor has accepted the challenge of taking part in the hotly contested BrightRock Battle of the Sports now under way in the Northern Cape.

She will step in for Comrades Marathon winner and coach Nick Bester, who was badly injured in an attack late last month while he was out training.

This makes Challenor the only female participant in the 200km endurance race and fundraiser, which is taking place over five weeks. She will join teammates Bongmusa Mthembu, David Gatebe and team manager Bruce Fordyce on September 17.

In this challenge, 12 cricketers, rugby players, soccer stars and running heroes take on each other, as well as expedition leader Erik Vermeulen, at Verneukpan, the arid salt pan in the Northern Cape.

Team Rugby was the first team out and will return on Friday, having successfully circumnavigated the pan without any support.

Other high-profile contestants include Teko Modise, Lance Klusener, Matthew Booth and Makhaya Ntini.

Challenor is one of the most respected names in professional running. She has represented SA on the world stage for the half-marathon and the full marathon, and qualified for the Olympics. In 2017, she ran her debut Two Oceans 56km ultra-marathon and placed second overall. Two years later, she made her Comrades Marathon debut and won gold, placing sixth in a time of six hours and 35 minutes.

“I believe Jenna will be strong enough to help the Comrades runners still win this event,” said Bester, who is recovering well and already training again. “We all know how strong women are in endurance and tough events like this. It is all in the head, not the body — that will be the deciding factor for victory, and all Comrades gold medallists have that.”

'This is going to be really fun'

Challenor dreams of representing SA again — possibly at the Olympics in 2021 — and of finishing on the podium for the Comrades Marathon. But first she will take up her position in Team Running in the BrightRock Battle of the Sports.

“I grew up with two older brothers who were both pretty sporty and I did everything and anything they did, so competing with the guys is nothing new. I am so excited to be participating in a team. Running is such an individual sport, so this is going to be really fun,” she said.

Challenor said it was also an opportunity to do something positive during the Covid-19 pandemic. “It has been a really hard couple of months for most people, particularly not being able to train, and I have been looking for something I can do which can add a bit of positivity.

“When I was first approached by Clive Grinaker from Events to Aid, I absolutely loved the initiative and the opportunity to give back. As a mom of three girls, I also love to inspire women. So many women feel they need to give up on their dreams once they become mothers. I am walking proof to other women and my three girls that one should never stop.

“I would love to inspire all our SA women to support and donate to this excellent cause by participating and challenging other women.”

How you can do your part

“While our sports heroes are battling it out on the pan,” said Grinaker, “we are encouraging ordinary citizens from all walks of life, sports fans, corporates and schools — whether in SA or across the globe — to do the 200km.

“This can be done alone in one go or over the five weeks of the event, in teams of 10, with each person doing 20km, or 100 people doing 2km each — the distances are optional. As long as our participants have registered and the ‘challenge’ adds up to 200km, then the objective has been achieved.”

Each entrant will make a donation, said Grinaker.