Although the recent death of coach-extraordinaire, Rufus Botha, caught the people of Bloemfontein by surprise, it is clear that his legacy stays alive through all the athletes he has trained during his decades-long career. Courant spoke to a few of the runners who remember “Coach Rufus” for the coaching, announcing and mentoring he was known for in the local sports community.
The training group that Coach Rufus cultivated is now in the safe hands of his colleagues, including Anton Nicholaisen, Sandra Smith and Barry Williams. “The group is going well and the athletes are training well. We are a family and everyone is committed to keep the Botha legend alive,” said Williams, a coach with 30 years under his belt. The trio have taken on the group of over 50 athletes to make sure that they continue to reach their dreams.
While in Grade 3, the 10-year-old Manny Wilson broke a 16-year-old record for the 1200 m at Grey College. He has been trained by Botha since a young age and can today run 11 km. He is also a record holder for the 5km Parkrun. “Coach Rufus was strict but also a very loving person. He saw my talent and motivated me to give my best every time. I was acknowledged as an athlete who had developed the most for two years in a row. I was Coach Rufus’s ‘Yster’,” said Wilson.
In 2019, Arina Nicholaisen represented South Africa at the World Para Athletics Junior Championships in Nottwil, Switzerland. Although she has been living with cerebral palsy since birth, Nicholaisen broke the Senior World Record in the T38 800 m Female U20 event had been standing since 2001.
“I’ve known Oom Rufus my whole life but I started training with him full time in 2015. He was really tough, but he cared because he wanted each of us to succeed. It was after I had started training with him that I began participating in disabled body sports. Before that, I used to ride horses as an able bodied athlete. He knew that I would be able to accomplish more,” said Nicholaisen.
“Out of all the great things I remember him for, his sense of humour is what stands out the most. He always had a joke about everything; he used to send inspirational quotes and Tik Toks. He motivated me a lot because he was there every step of the way,” she added.
Godfrey Ramokone is a 34-year-old marathon runner who expressed that both Botha’s coaching and guidance have led him on a successful life path, despite the odds. “I thought of him as my dad because he started coaching me when I was 16. This was a critical age and I could have gone another way like other teenage boys if it had not been for his influence,” Ramokone said.
“I will always remember him for his jokes, which he would include whenever he had to do announcing. Whenever something happened, he would try to make the situation more cheerful by making people laugh.
He knew how to make us laugh even when we’ve heard a joke many times before,” said Danie Breitenbach, a blind track and cross country runner.
Breitenbach started training under Botha in 2013 as a student at a local university. He was partially blind until the age of 10 before he completely lost his sight but as an energetic child, he turned to sports to express himself. “I know that I only knew him for seven years but it actually feels like a lifetime,” he said.