FIRST-TIME Comrades Marathon athlete and Kouga Municipality employee, Eric Ruiters, is set to take to the road on Sunday, June 13 for the local leg of the virtual Comrades marathon event – one of only two local athletes to tackle the grueling 90km distance.
Ruiters will be joined by fifth-time Comrades Marathon athlete and Kouga Municipality employee, Enrico Biko. A third municipal employee, Cedric Grootboom, will join them at the halfway mark in Cape St Francis.
All three avid runners are members of the Jeffreys Bay Running Club.
And this is all for an extremely worthy cause – the Centre of Grace Foundation, a non-profit organisation in Jeffreys Bay whose vision is to ensure that children impacted by autism and their families have access to autism services in the region.
Why for autism?
“To create awareness and raise much-needed funds,” said Ruiters who has a 10-year-old son, Roman-Leo, who is impacted by autism.
According to Ruiters, who first started running six years ago to lose weight (over 40kg to date) and now runs up to 100km a week to not only keep fit but also to relax and clear his head, Leo was a perfect, healthy, and lively baby.
“Then everything changed – he suddenly stopped talking and walking at the age of two and had to wear nappies again,” said Ruiters who did not know anything about autism. “However, it was only six years later – after countless visits to doctors and specialists – that he was diagnosed with autism.
“Leo experiences a high rate of sleep problems and does not like change or any mild to loud noises. And he eats constantly.”
Not able to afford countless speech therapists, Ruiters used the pamphlets of supermarkets to teach his son to speak again. He laughs, “Today, Leo speaks fluent English – event though I taught him in Afrikaans.”
Leo, who is being homeschooled, also no longer wears nappies and is extremely attentive, although there is little to no eye contact.
“I want to run for my son,” he said. “I want to run to raise much-needed awareness around autism in Kouga.”
Biko, who spend his birthday running his first marathon, said finishing the Comrades Marathon is a reassurance that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to – mentally and physically.
He frowns: “I was very inexperienced – my running shoes were too small, and I did not have enough nutrients in my body. After crossing the finish line, I immediately knew I want to compete again . . . and again.”
Ruiters said that all the funds raised by the event will go towards various therapies for children with autism and family support services, which will be offered by the foundation.
The event is also supported by Kouga Municipality, who joined hands with Kaylene and Toyer Jappie – founders of the foundation – in April this year in a bid to bring quality autism services to all Kouga residents. No matter their age or income bracket.
Demonstrating their commitment, an Autism Acceptance flag was raised at the municipal office in Da Gama Road. The ceremony was followed by an Inclusion in Workplace Programme for all municipal employees.
Kouga Executive Mayor, Horatio Hendricks, who has been touched by the Jappies’ passion and Ruiters’ commitment to his son, said, “It is an absolute honour for the municipality to be part of this event – especially considering that three of our employees will set the pace during the race in Kouga.
“We are extremely proud of Ruiters who initiated the fundraiser – a security at the municipality at night so that he can look after his son during the day when his wife is at work.
“The municipality whishes the three employees, as well as all the other local runners, all the luck and all the best on Sunday.”
According to Hendricks, they encourage all residents and businesses to give them as much support as possible.”
Ruiters and Biko will leave the starting blocks at Main Beach in Jeffreys Bay at 06:00 – heading towards Diaz Road. From there they will proceed towards Da Gama Road before taking the R102 towards Humansdorp and Cape St Francis.
At the 45km hallway mark close to Seal Point Lighthouse, the duo will be joined by Grootboom, as well as more members of the Jeffreys Bay Running Club, who will compete in the 45km leg of the event.
From there they will return along the same route.
At the 21km to-go-point in Humansdorp, even more runners from the Jeffreys Bay Running Club will join participants, while more members will take to the road for the last 10km stretch.
Between 35 to 40 runners will compete on the day.
It is estimated that the last runner will cross the finish line at 16:00 – the official cut-off time.
“We appeal to residents and businesses to support the event,” said Ruiters.
Financial donations can be made to the Centre of Grace Foundation at First National Bank, account number 62892107957, branch code 210835, reference Autism Run.