Nomawethu Nika

Nomawethu Nika was born in the Eastern Cape in a small town called Tarkastad. There, she grew up on a farm with fourteen other grandchildren, raised by her grandmother. This life is a far cry from where she finds herself now: beginning a journey that will take her to all of the seven continents, where she will attempt to climb the highest peak on each. Noma is one of three women who are participating in a project called Isicongo. This project will see three female athletes from the Mandela Park informal settlement in Hout Bay attempting to climb the Seven Summits of the world ultimately aiming to be the first black women to summit Everest.

Noma fondly remembers her days on the farm and points out that spending her youth there may have made her the athlete that she is today. "We used to walk long distances because on such a big farm nothing was close together. I used to climb hills and would carry water and wood for kilometres. I became very fit at a young age and always loved sports," says Noma.

Noma attended school in Tarkastad but regrets that she was never able to complete her matric. When she was young, she would religiously listen to and watch the news. Hearing about the world inspired her and led her to dream of becoming a lawyer. She could not, however, realise this dream as she found herself having to leave school early to find work. In 1999 Noma moved to Cape Town to find employment as a domestic worker. Sadly, this meant she had to part with her beloved sons Sindisani and Acola whom she left in the care of her grandmother in Tarkastad.

After living in Cape Town for six years, Noma began to feel a little more at home. She had found work and a place to live. However, in January 2005, she started to become worried about the fact that she was gaining a lot of weight. "One day, I decided I was tired of this fat on my body, so I started to exercise. Every evening after work, I would go for a walk. Slowly, I started to run, until eventually I was running a minimum of five kilometres every day," explains Noma. Rediscovering her natural talent for athletics, she joined a club called the Hout Bay Harriers and began to run marathons. It was around this time that she met Zuki Matamo, now her running partner and best friend. Zuki had also begun running to lose weight and encouraged Noma to start running competitively. In just a few short months, Noma had completed the Winelands Marathon, the Two Oceans Half Marathon, the Knysna Marathon and Ou Kaapse Weg.

Zuki and Noma soon became a familiar sight for residents of Hout Bay and Llandudno, intensively training every day. The people of the neighbourhood suggested that they meet Evelina Tshabalala, another well-known runner, who worked at the Hout Bay Spar. The rest is history. Noma, Zuki and Evelina are now becoming household names and role models for South Africans as the country watches their progress in the challenge they have set themselves. "I think climbing mountains is physically different from running, but it takes the same focus and determination. When I feel scared or intimidated by the challenge, I just remind myself that I am doing this for my children and my grandmother, to show them, and everyone else, that anything is possible if you don't give up," says Noma.

Testament to her impressive determination, the first foreign mountain Noma ever climbed was Mount Elbrus (the highest mountain in Europe), which she summited on 9 September 2006. She also summited Kilimanjaro on 9 November 2006, and Aconcagua in Argentina on 7 January 2007. On 17 February 2008 Noma summited Kosciuszko.

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