ISLE of Man race walking legend Robbie Callister has made headline news in South Africa by becoming the first competitor from outside the country in 20 years to win Capetown’s most important walking event of the year.
Callister, five times winner of the Parish Walk, won the Discovery Cape Times Big Walk at the weekend, achieving major coverage in the Cape Times newspaper.
He also won the 80km race in a record breaking time in his first attempt at the event, having been invited to compete by race walking friends.
Callister said after his win, ““The rain was coming down heavily when we started and the strong winds made certain parts of the walk uncomfortable.
“I was invited over by some friends to do the race because I do a lot of road races back home. I have won the 136km walking race back home five times already, but I still enjoyed this one.”
He said he enjoyed the friendly encouragement by fellow walkers along the route. “They started cheering me on and clapping, which was amazing. The course was a bit flat for me, but it was just as tough as the ones back home.”
First established in 1903 by Spartan and Harriers athletics club, the race has since become South Africa’s oldest and Cape Town’s biggest annual sporting event.
It is similar in many ways to the Parish Walk in that it is chiefly a community event, having a huge number of starters. Many walkers wear fancy dress and the majority raise funds for charities. It attracts walkers of all ages - the oldest participant was 86-year-old Cecily Rootenberg and the youngest three months.
Despite the heavy rainfall and strong south-easterly winds, about 22,000 walkers out of the 36,509 who registered strolled, power-walked and shuffled along 10 routes ranging from 5km to 80km in support of charities which included the Steenberg Foundation and the Breast Cancer Fundraisers and Nazareth House.
Event organiser Tania Carolus said, “Two years ago we had rainfall worse than this event. When I arrived at the 10km and 12km people were dancing in the rain with their children.
“We still had a crowd of people standing in front of the stage watching while it was pouring.”
Robbie Callister has been travelling outside of the UK to take part in walking festivals for some years and is a regular visitor to northern Spain where he has walked in non-competitive events for several years, normally in the late spring and not long before the Parish Walk.
After retiring in this year’s Parish Walk, he said that did not intend to take part in the event again. Perhaps his performance in South Africa at the weekend will change his mind.