Leon was killed in a hit and run by a taxi during his morning run on Tuesday 4 July 2017. He was a caring, honest and giving man who loved his family and his friends. He would always go out of his way to assist those dear to him even at his own self sacrifice – such was his selfless nature.
I miss you everyday Leon, more than words can describe. You were one of the people who shaped me into the person I am today and I owe so much of who I am to you. Thank you for being one of the best friends I could have ever asked for. You will continue to live on in my heart and memories. Rest in peace my dear friend.
I joined Midrand Striders in 2009 as a complete novice. As many fellow club runners would have experienced, Leon took me under his wing and began showing me the ropes. One of the first lessons he taught me was through a conversation he was having with another club mate, Andrew Dollenberg, on a Sunday morning club run. After identifying Leon as one of the top runners in the club, I used to try desperately to keep up with him during club runs. He and Andrew were deeply involved in a conversation whilst I was huffing and puffing behind them trying for dear life to hang on. Leon was explaining to Andrew how important it was to get work life balance right. “You need to work enough to be able to afford running shoes,” he said “but you can’t let work cut into your running time.” The importance of working to live your best life and the acknowledgement that running was the best way to live filtered through to me and the love and joy he obtained from running started to become something I and so many others who interacted with him understood.
After my first Comrades I saw Leon proudly wearing his Bill Rowan medal. I was so motivated to try to get one of my own and over the next couple of years he mentored me towards achieving this goal. It was after that Comrades in 2011 that Leon and I started training together. I had finally become strong enough to push him a little and the challenge and competition between us began – to become the best runners we could be.
Our first goal was to get a silver medal at the 2012 Comrades. That year everything was about Comrades. We started doing our early morning Wednesday long runs, we discussed strategy and by the time race day came we were ready.
With the chaos at the start we didn’t find each other and for the first 10km. I was wondering how I was going to manage a silver without my training partner. Suddenly the familiar, cheerful Leon appeared along side me and I knew we were back in the game. We made a couple of rookie errors that year. One of them was our amazing plan to eat salted potatoes. We had decided that extra salt on potatoes was a great decision to replace the salts we would be sweating out. Leon and Sally (Leon’s Wife) had diligently made potatoes and layered them with so much salt to make sure we would get enough in. We were extremely excited to see Sally waiting for us with these potatoes, which were going to give us the edge and eagerly grabbed them without stopping and began shoving them into our mouths, only to realize that they were very salty and we had no water. It was a very quiet couple of km’s to the next water table.
We ran most of that Comrades together, focused and determined to meet our goal. Leon was always amazing at helping fellow runners to achieve their targets and in true Leon style he stuck with me despite wanting to go faster a few times on our way towards Durban. I kept holding him back and he would reluctantly agree to stay with me at my conservative pace. I was not so kind. When we got to Pinetown he started to struggle for the first time during the run and I left him, racing to the end. I sheepishly and apologetically stood waiting for him at the finish line as he came in full of smiles. He had also achieved his first silver medal and was only happy and proud of my strong finish.
Leon’s positivity and belief that we could always be better and faster enabled me to push harder and we shared some incredible moments together. He was still obtaining PB’s and improving every year.
Some of my highlights were running City to City in 2013 where I finished second and winning the Tough One last year November with him by my side. It is obvious that in many races he was stronger than I was, but he still slowed down to help me to achieve my goals and dreams. Both of those races are incredibly hilly and Leon loved nothing more than tackling hills. “This is a great hill” was frequently said during both of these runs.
Leon always had time for everyone and loved sharing his passion for running. I can remember him saying to me that we should always treat everyone with the same amount of respect, “Whether it be the janitor or the CEO, both jobs are equally important and the janitor should always be given the same respect as one would give the CEO”. I loved this quality in him and it made me strive towards being a better human.
One of the many small sacrifices that Leon made for me was this year after my injury and withdrawal from Comrades. I was starting to train again and had to do my first 20 minute run. He drove all the way to Pretoria to run a short and very slow 20 minutes with me. He had also had to miss Comrades because of injury this year and told me that as hard as what it was to miss the race, it would be there next year and that we would run it together next year and go for a crazy goal again, like a sub 6 hour. I was immediately motivated to work towards the future and not dwell on the current disappointments.
And next year I will be running Comrades with Leon because he will be there. Every time I lace up my shoes and go for a run he will be there, motivating me and pushing me to be better. I will hear his excitement at the “Great hills” whenever I see a mountain that needs to be climbed and I will remember him telling me how it’s great to feel that you need to throw up for the last km in a hard 10k race because that means that you have pushed your body just hard enough. All those who knew Leon will continue to run with him because the memories and experiences he gave us cannot be lost. They will be with us through thousands of more km’s on the road as we do what he taught us best – to love running.