Christine Kalmer is one of three marathon (42km) runners to represent South Africa at the Olympic Games in Rio later this year. Kalmer had the second fastest marathon time in the country clocking at 2:33:43, for the qualifying period.
“Competing in the Olympics is every athlete’s dream”
The dream to participate in the Olympics took flame in Christine’s heart, after witnessing Elana Meyer’s historic silver medal run at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. South Africa just returned to the Olympic scene after being banned from international sport. Derartu Tulu, from Ethiopia won that race and became the first black African woman to win a gold medal. With their national flags around their shoulders, the South African and Ethiopian embraced each other and ran a victory lap together. That victory lap symbolised hope of racial reconciliation for a new democratic South Africa. Hence, Christine hopes that her dream coming true will, in the same way as Elana Meyer’s, be more than just about her.
“I don’t want my participation in the Olympic Games to just be about me and my dreams; I am continuously asking God to show me a bigger purpose.”
The Kalmer family: Love is kind
As a little girl, Christine used to chase after her older siblings until she was able to run with them. I think Rene, her older sister, must have loved the fact that her little sister was in fact pushing her to become one of South Africa’s fastest long distance runners.
Big sister Rene, competed in both Beijing (1500m) and London Olympics (marathon). Christine mentioned that there was a moment during the Beijing Olympics where she had to lay down her dream of one day competing in the Olympics herself; contemplating whether or not her dream was only to see her sister’s dream come true. For Christine, seeing Rene participate in the Olympics was first prize. She is her sister’s keeper and so much more. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude (1 Corinthians 13:4).
“We are best friends and we do not compete against each other at all. We just want the best for each other…Rene trains with me twice a day before and after work, she is a professional athlete that can train at any time but she chooses to train with me. Running with her is special. I will never have been able to do it without her.”
Rene has been running some of the fastest marathon times for the last five years in South Africa and managed to qualify for the Olympics according to the (IAAF) International Association of Athletics Federation standard but unfortunately only ranked sixed in the country, based on the (ASA) Athletics South Africa’s standards.
“Rene, not qualifying for the Olympics is disappointing for both of us; it would have been awesome doing this with her.”
Two sisters participating in respective Olympic Games; one would think that it must be in their genes. Surprisingly, the Kalmer dad is not athletic at all. “My dad does not even watch rugby.” With a big smile Christine defended her parents by adding that her mom at times, socially participate in sporting events. Christine reckons that, this actually contributed to their success. Their parents never put any external pressure on them. The only motivation they have for running comes from inside.
Christine’s parents took them to church when they were little. Although she had a hard time staying awake in the services, according to Christine, those disciplines were the first steps in her being able to have the faith relationship that she currently has. Her relationship with God is her security net, she knows that whatever happens, God still loves her and so does her parents. This sense of belonging and security is also the foundation for her confidence on the road.
Last year I briefly met Herman, Christine’s middle brother. I thought he was cute, but unfortunately, I don’t think he was looking in my direction at all. (Story of my life). When I found out that he was the brother of Christine and Rene Kalmer, I immediately disqualified myself and swiftly moved on. I run for the participation medal, and normally I am just in time before cut-off, thus I will not have been able to carry the Kalmer name with pride. Herman is one exam away from being a fully qualified actuary and known as the clever one in the family. Nonetheless, Christine is not far behind. She received a sport bursary to study at Arkansas University in the USA, where she graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering. Since 2011 she has been working full time as an engineer; five days a week from 8 to 5.
Christine’s boyfriend, Aiden, is also a runner. When they met two years ago, he overheard Christine speak about running the Two Oceans half marathon. Excited about his own entry, he joined the conversation and wanted to know if she is also aiming to run the 21km in under 2 hours. Christine smiled and said that she is hoping to finish in 75 minutes. He was shocked, impressed, and hooked from that moment.
Kindness is something that Christine learned, experienced and expressed through her family. She was willing to accept that God had different paths set for her and Rene’s dream of competing in the Olympics. Rene was willing to plan her training around Christine’s schedule and although their parents are not big sport lovers, they sacrificed time, resources and many hours of sleep to drive Christine and Rene to training or wait for them by the side of the road. The support from her brother and boyfriend has also been priceless. Everyone gave of themselves for the other.
Love is patient
“I have surrendered my dream of running the Olympics to God, but I told myself, what if the answer is yes, what must happen. So I kept on training hard putting my faith into action”
I have never met anyone who more diligently and patiently worked towards a dream like Christine. At six years old, Christine started dreaming about participating in the Olympics. As a thirteen-year-old teenager, she competed in her first 10km race. From the age of fourteen, she started training for the Olympics by running twice a day during weekdays (Monday to Friday) and once a day on weekends (Saturday and Sunday). Ten years after her first 10km race at age 23, she ran her first 21km race. Over the years she participated in numerous 21km (1:14 PB) and 10km (33:53 PB) races. Moreover, last year April, at age 30, Team SA marathon runner ran her debut marathon. Christine and Rene participated in the Vienna Marathon where Rene came sixth (2:33:21) and Christine in ninth place (2:39:16). “Rene showed me the ropes with my fist marathon, and coached me on what to expect and what not to do.” Christine went on to participate in her second marathon in Valencia, Spain on 15 November 2015 where she ran her PB of 2:33:43.
Christine Kalmer waited until she was ready to run an Olympic qualifying time before she entered her maiden marathon.
“I am not sure why I waited so long to run my first marathon. I was very pleased with my debut, and 3 days after that, the IAAF announced that they changed the qualifying time to 2h42, 3 minutes slower than my time. There I realized what is impossible with men, is possible with God.”
The most phenomenal thing about Christine’s journey is that when she runs her next marathon in the Olympics it will only be her third ever marathon. Her discipline and steadfastness during this journey has indeed been remarkable. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:7)
Christine’s story gave me hope for all the many big dreams that are in my heart. I guess the best thing is to wait patiently for the Lord’s timing while diligently being faithful with the little. “What if God says yes? What do I need to do now to be ready for His yes answer?” I have been grappling with this question ever since our conversation.
Advice from Christine
I however, do not have as much patience as Christine when it comes to running. I started running in 2014 and managed to complete ten, 10km races for the year. I refrain from putting running and time in one sentence in protecting my public reputation, finishing is all that matters. I nonetheless, ran my first 21km the following year, and have now entered for the Cape Town Marathon. Consequently, I asked Christine for some tips. This is what she had to say:
- Have a programme – print it out and tick off what you did.
- Find someone to train with you – it helps with accountability and support.
- Pace yourself in the race – do not start too fast.
- Have a race plan per 5 km and stick to it.
- Only start running/sprinting from 30km or even 35km. (I will just ignore this part as there will be no sprinting when I run.)
- Mentally -keep looking in front of you; forget how many kilometres you have already run.
- VASBYT! (Hang in there!)
Rene offered to send me a training programme. This in itself is a real honour. I met a girl at church for the first time and she without hesitating agreed to run a full marathon with me. Training has commenced and I think we are well on our way to finish under five hours. Since we are two girls training by ourselves, Christine also added a few safety tips:
- Never run alone.
- Run with neon colour clothing so that you are visible for cars.
- No earphones! It is important to be aware of your surroundings.
- Run behind each other if the running space is tight. The cars own the road, your life matters.
- If you are going for a long run tell someone where you are planning on running and when they can expect you back.
- Ask friends to wait for you at certain points. Use it as check in’s. This is also great encouragement.
I realised that running is not really an individual sport. It is a team sport. If you want to succeed, you need a team behind you.
Christine’s advice to all the big dreamers out there is, “Tap into your childhood dreams, the Lord placed those dreams in your heart for a reason. However, do not allow your dreams to become the centre of your life. Know your worth as a person. Remember it is not based on your achievements. Everyone can achieve their dreams, don’t give up and make sure you enjoy the journey.”
I tied Christine’s story to 1 Corinthians 13: 4 Love is patient, love is kind. In essence, to me it is a story of love, love for her family and especially her sister; love for running and a passion to leave a legacy; and love for her Maker. She was able to diligently pursue her dream and at the same time let it go by placing it in the hands of God, while supporting her sister in achieving her sister’s dream. It has been a long journey, nonetheless her story teaches that:
Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8)