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First official female Comrades Marathon winner dies at age 89

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Her official personal best was achieved in 1978 in a time of 9hr53min. She holds six bronze medals

Betty Cavanagh, the first official female Comrades Marathon winner, has died at the age of 89.

Cavanagh was revered as the first official female winner of the Comrades Marathon, when it opened up to participation of both women and people of all races in 1975.

The Comrades Marathon Association (CMA) described Cavanagh as a humble and endearing person; a genuine trailblazer who inspired women and paved the way for our current female ultra-running champions.

Cavanagh successfully completed six Comrades Marathons, as well as having run four races unofficially, between 1970 and 1973.

Her official personal best was achieved in 1978 in a time of 9hr53min. She holds six bronze medals.

Comrades chairperson, Cheryl Winn said: “As the official winner of the 1975 Comrades Marathon, Betty Cavanagh’s name was the first to be engraved on the coveted Comrades Marathon Bowl. She and her fellow female pioneers such as Lettie van Zyl, Mavis Hutchinson and even others before them, such as Francis Hayward (1923) and Geraldine Watson (1931/2) were the inspiration, not only to my generation of women who gradually began competing in greater numbers in the late 1970s and ’80s, but were also the genuine trailblazers who paved the road for the likes of Frith van der Merwe, the Nurgalieva twins and Gerda Steyn, as well as the record number of 6 476 women who have entered the 2020 Comrades Marathon.”

Winn added that what she admired most about Cavanagh was the significant contribution that she and her husband Tony made to the sport of athletics in general, and in particular to ultramarathon running in KZN.

In a statement, CMA elder Poobie Naidoo and his wife Pat, also expressed their sadness at news of Cavanagh’s passing.

“We will always remember the lovely lady that Betty was – a kind, gentle but also strong and determined individual who made time for people. Our deepest condolences to the family and all who knew her.”

Jay Reddy of KwaZulu-Natal Athletics extended the organisation’s condolences to Cavanagh’s family, officials of CMA, friends and associates.

“It is indeed a sad loss for the athletics fraternity. We celebrate her life and her historical and iconic contribution to the Comrades Marathon and sport in SA,” Reddy said.

The funeral service for Cavanagh will be held on Saturday in Pietermaritzburg.