By Emily Setona
QWAQWA – It was an auspicious occasion last Saturday when QwaQwa-born Olympic sprinter Tlotliso Gift Leotlela received a homecoming celebration organised and sponsored by the community of Elite, the residential area where he grew up.
The ‘Elitians’ as residents of Elite are affectionately called, have a Local Organising Committee that champions community issues raised by residents. The Elitians LOC came together to plan and organise the homecoming celebration for Leotlela at The Sentinel Primary School, where he started his education.
True to the adage that says ‘charity begins at home’, Gift’s athletic talent was identified by his primary school physical training (PT) teacher Mr Veli Nkabinde.
“My task was to oversee the children while they participated in extramural activities. The boys played soccer and this is where I saw that Gift was faster than the ball, so I encouraged him to rather focus on sprinting,” said Nkabinde.
Gift started running at a very young age; his primary school teachers saw his talent and with the support of his mother, he grew from strength to strength. After completing his primary school education, he received a bursary to attend high school at Louis Botha, a school in Bloemfontein with proper athletic facilities that would offer Gift the type of training and support his talent needed.
“I am very proud of my son. I have been supporting him in every way that I could,” said his mother, Nondaziboni Sara Leotlela.
Through sheer determination, self-discipline and hard work, this young man took full advantage of the opportunity.
“I never thought I’d come this far, but I knew that I loved running. My mother was always there for me; her support means everything to me,” said Gift.
When word came out that Gift had qualified for the Olympics, the Elitians LOC wasted no time celebrating this achievement by one of their own. Local businesses joined in to bankroll this event.
Gift has been hailed as not just a community hero, but a national treasure. His gift of speed has raised him high and his humble and soft-spoken character is what sets him apart. A community representative who spoke at the homecoming celebration said Gift grew up right before her eyes.
“Gift would run faster than all of the kids in the neighborhood; they just couldn’t keep up with him. He outran them all,” said Ms Msimang.