UCT Athletics Club 10km run honours 3 remarkable UCT women athletes

29 Apr 2024
10km Memorial Race
29 Apr 2024

The UCT Athletics Club invites you to come and celebrate the spirit of endurance at the UCT 10km Memorial Run on Sunday 5th May. This event honours the lives of three extraordinary women (all UCT alumni) who were running and breaking records when they died tragically young.

The three remarkable athletes from the UCT Running Club who the Memorial Race pays tribute to are:

Isavel Roche-Kelly

Isavel running Comrades
Isavel winning the Comrades Marathon
Isavel Trophy
Isavel with UCT sportswoman of the year trophy

UCT athlete, Isavel Roche-Kelly was one of South Africa’s most talented distance runners.

Her unique spirit and positive view on life contributed significantly to her extraordinary athletics achievements which made the diminutive Isavel a giant at the clubhouse and throughout UCT, where she was named UCT sportswoman of the year in 1980 and 1981.

Isavel was a fun and run-loving young woman, but serious minded when focussed on her talent. Extremely loyal to and proud of UCT Athletics Club, she had roots in the Free State and Ireland. With no prior background in running, she unleashed two years of running magic at UCT with astonishing performances over the distances from 1 500m to 90km, rivalling the best in the country. She broke the SA Marathon record and was the first woman to run faster than 7 hours at the Comrades Marathon.

Just eleven months after embarking on her running career with a 500m jog around her residence at UCT, Roche-Kelly became the first athlete to run under 7 hrs 30 min for the Comrades Marathon (7 hrs 18 min), improving the previous record by over an hour. Only a year later she was back at Comrades – this time on the ‘up’ run and her time of 6 hrs 44 min bettered that record by over two hours, ensuring her place in Comrades history.

After her second Comrades win, Roche-Kelly switched focus to the standard marathon, and just over three months later had broken the national record in a time of 2:43:16 at Faure. Two months later, she improved the record by a further minute with an astounding 2:42:27 on the hilly Winelands Marathon course.

When she was hindered by running injuries, she took up cycling and entered the Cape Town Cycle Tour which she won in a record breaking time of 3 hours 19 min.

A record-breaking champion in both running and cycling, she died tragically at just 25, in a cycling accident in Ireland while training to make the Irish Olympic Team.

In this year’s UCT 10km Memorial Run Edition, we will remember her enduring contribution to the club and university at large.

Merrilyn Smith

Merrilyn Smith
Merrilyn running and climbing mountains

Merrilyn Smith pioneered the revival in women’s running at UCT with her positive energy and fine cross country running in the late 1970s, setting the stage for UCT’s golden years in the early 80’s when athletes of the calibre of Marian Loveday, Isavel Roche-Kelly and Cathy Fair were in their prime. Training with these athletes elevated Merrilyn’s own performances and was an integral part of the winning teams at UCT during that era, which included victory over Stellenbosch University in the 1981 Intervarsity Road Relay, when the quartet of Cathy, Marian, Merrilyn and Isavel overturned decades of domination by the Maties.

Trish Moores, Merrilyn’s flatmate in her final years at UCT would often finish within seconds of Merrilyn and together with Isavel and Marian, they placed an impressive third at the 1981 SA Universities Relay in Durban, narrowly beaten by the ‘Springbok-laden’ RAU and UPE teams.

Merrilyn’s improvement on the road and in cross country was such that she was able to cruise to a 3 hrs 6 min debut marathon at Stellenbosch, scarcely breaking a sweat and she was selected to represent WP at the South African 10km Championships in Green Point. She competed in good company with the likes of Colleen Lindque (De Reuck) Zola Budd, Blanche Moila, Dianna Massyn, Sonja Laxton and of course Isavel and Marian, setting a fast pace up front!

Merrilyn absolutely thrived in leadership and the UCT athletics Club magazine StopWatch described her as “the life and soul of the UCT Athletics Club ”, where she earned a reputation for arranging legendary cheese and wine functions! She had a heart for adventure – whether exploring mountain trails in the Western Cape or the majestic Wild Coast. She was perpetually sunny, a person who lived life to the fullest and drew joy out of every moment, rising above life’s disappointments and disillusionments. Merrilyn died tragically in a domestic accident on 30 June 1982 at the age of 23.

Lindsay Weight

Lindsay Weight Comrades
Lindsay Weight winning Comrades
Lindsay Weight

Lindsay Weight was, in the words of James Evans (coach at the UCT Athletics Club) one of the club’s icons. She was just one of three members of the club to have won the Comrades Marathon, which she did twice – in both 1983 and 1984. She was just 21 and a student at KwaZulu–Natal University when she won the 1983 race in a winning time of 7:12:56, becoming the first woman to earn a Comrades gold medal.

In total, she won 11 Comrades medals, including six golds and five bronze medals. Lindsay also boasted a second in the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon. Her best marathon time, recorded some 22 years ago, is still the 53rd best ever by a South African woman.

She also played other roles in sport. She was also a popular radio and television commentator, and contributed regular pieces for magazines like Runner’s World.

Lindsay, who finished her PhD at UCT, was a well-loved academic in the Department of Human Biology, where she contributed to changes in curriculum in the Faculty of Health Sciences.

She was just as eager to pass on what she knew about running to the young members of the athletics club at UCT, and beyond. “Lindsay became quite passionate about assisting younger people and was always willing to offer advice and assistance,” says Evans.

By all appearances, Lindsay was in top condition when she collapsed in front her computer and died at her Hout Bay home, aged 44. Her sudden death, soon after she had completed the recent Puffer ultra-marathon, stunned athletics enthusiasts.

Together we are UCT

Run the 10km Memorial Race in honour of these legends.

Enter online  at Racepass.com OR at The Sweat Shop (Cash Only), OR enter on the day from 05h30 at the Kramer Building OR before race day at the UCT Sports Centre from 09h00 – 14h00.  Cost from R90. 

You won’t just be running for the finish line – you will also be running to make a difference – R20 from every entry will go to pay off student debt. Your strides can make a difference! Lace up and sign up!