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COVER STORY: Women in Action


Twelve ambitious women CAs(SA) tell us how they manage their  demanding careers and still find the time to be successful sportswomen. Lynn Grala interviewed them.

Change starts with small beginnings. These twelve sporty women show us that real change requires more than just good intentions. What is needed is one serious decision followed by a whole lot of hard work, etermination and (most of all) perseverance – keeping the goal in mind at all times. They prove that a small sporty step can literally culminate in a gold medal.

It’s interesting that in most cases they did not achieve this all by themselves. They started running with a sister or friend or relied on the support and motivation of their husbands or coaches.

A recent study labels South Africa with rather daunting statistics of having the highest overweight and obesity rate in sub-Saharan Africa. With seven out of ten women and four out of ten men carrying significantly more body fat than what is deemed healthy, perhaps we should read their stories on a more serious note.

You may not need to aim to win the Comrades just yet, but start off with one small goal such as jogging around the block every other day. And don’t be surprised if you see the impossible becoming possible!

Antonette van Duuren CA(SA), Fitness model

‘I love my Nikes; I own 16 pairs,’ says Antonette van Duuren CA(SA), financial manager and treasurer at Danone.

A normal day of Antonette’s life consists of getting up at 4 am, training for two hours or so and working 8–10 hours, followed by

another training session of 60 minutes.

‘As draining as it sounds, when you have a passion for something you make it work!’

Funnily enough, at school sport didn’t spark an interest for her at all. But when it came to her 16th birthday, she begged her parents for a gym contract. And although her dad didn’t buy into the idea at all, saying it would be a waste of money, her brother-in-law surprised her with a two-year Health and Racquet contract. ‘Fifteen years later I thank him for making me look fit and fab at the age of 31.’

Antonette started out attending aerobics classes, immediately deciding she wanted to become an instructor. Having completed a group exercise instructor course at the top of her class, she signed up at Virgin Active, where she is currently a boot camp and shape (aka body conditioning) instructor.

In 2009, her fitness modelling career kicked off when a guy, Max, approached her in the gym and told her that she had great potential to compete. In her first show, she obtained second place.

Antonette has since competed in five competitions between 2010 and 2013. Entering the first World Beauty Fitness and Fashion annual show held in South Africa in 2013, she won her category, Diva Fitness Model, and proceeded to obtain her Pro Card in this division. She has since entered the world championships held in Las Vegas every year and will compete again in August 2015.

‘I always tell people, if you want to be successful in life, sacrifices have to be made. Life is short, so GRIP it and RIP it!

Camilla Howard-Browne CA(SA), Triathlete

With her go-getter personality, Camilla Howard-Browne has steadily progressed through manager ranks since her article days at Deloitte until finally being appointed a partner in 2007.

Her interest in running started in 2010 but within 18 months a foot injury forced her to take a break from running.

‘I was devastated, as training and running had become such a big part of my life. A friend of mine suggested that perhaps I should take up cycling and I truly fell in love with it – the feeling of freedom and adventure when I am on my bike.’

Her first half marathon was the Two Oceans in 2011 and the first full one the Berlin Marathon in 2012. Then followed cycling and swimming. After completing the Cape Argus and Amashova cycling races a number of times, she began participating in the Midmar Mile swimming race in 2013. Having cultivated a love for each of the three sporting disciplines, it seemed a natural progression to start participating in triathlons.

‘My first triathlon was the KZN Champs, and the only goal I had set for myself was “just don’t come last”. Well, I didn’t come last and actually earned myself a spot in the KZN team and participated in the SA Champs in East London in 2013.’

The two most challenging events she has completed to date were the IronMan in April 2014 and the Comrades in May 2015.

‘My aim for these was simply “just survive”.’

How does she juggle all of this with her demanding career? ‘This is not easy, particularly when you need to train in all three disciplines that in the peak weeks would require up to 22 hours a week. During the week I do a lot of training in the early morning before work, making use of the fantastic facilities on the Durban beachfront.’

Caroline Wöstmann CA(SA), Runner

Caroline Wöstmann, a senior lecturer in the School of Accountancy at Wits University, had the rare feat of winning both the Comrades and Two Oceans in a single year. Even nine-time Comrades winner Bruce Fordyce maintained this was difficult to achieve.

Caroline thoroughly enjoys the process of goal-setting, with running being no exception. After achieving her weight loss goal with running, she set herself the goal of completing the Comrades.

‘At that stage just completing Comrades seemed to be an almost impossible goal. It was incredibly tough and along the route I learnt about the ability of the mind to push on, even once the body is feeling broken.’

On reaching the finishing line, Caroline said she had never experienced a greater feeling of accomplishment, knowing how many times she had wanted to quit and yet refusing to give up. She had achieved what she had set out to do.

Upon finding out that if one finished Comrades under nine hours you could get a Bill Rowan medal, Caroline set her next goal. After crossing off that goal, she next aimed for the coveted silver Comrades medal, awarded to those who finish in under 7:30 hours. Finishing 15th in the women’s field in a time of 7 hours 15 minutes, she set her sights on the gold medal.

This was when she began to train really seriously. Having over-trained, she ended up missing the 2013 Comrades due to injury.  But watching the Comrades on TV made her more determined than ever to achieve her goal. In 2014, she was the first South African woman and sixth overall in the ladies field.

‘At this stage I dared to dream about possibly winning the race, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it without a proper support team. I discussed my dreams with my husband, who is the most valuable member of my support team, and also hired a coach and a biokineticist and sports massage therapist to assist me in my training and recovery. This brought me to my victory in Comrades this year as well as to my “surprise” victory in the Two Oceans ultra-marathon along the way.’

Of course, Caroline’s most prized possession is her Comrades gold medal.

Grathel Motau CA(SA), Runner

Grathel’s love and passion for running started in September 2008 while she was employed by Blue IQ, which was then a key sponsor of the City to City Marathon, the flagship being the 50-kilometre ultra-marathon from Pretoria to Johannesburg. Deciding to put herself through the challenge too, she registered and completed the race of more than 21 kilometres from Woodmead to Johannesburg in 2:15 hours. This would be her first ever road-running experience, and many more races were to follow.

Two months later she completed the Soweto Marathon, followed by the Comrades in June the following year.

‘Running has taught me the value of goal-setting, discipline and perseverance. It has also allowed me to have self-awareness, dig deep and to have self-belief. Also having to wake up at 4 am and be on the road that early is a true test of character.’

Grathel says it does become a bit of a challenge at times. However, a reminder of her goal always encourages and persuades her to wake up and keep training.

‘Since starting the running journey, I have rarely taken breaks and my general health has improved dramatically. So far, I have completed five Comrades marathons, a New York Marathon, and two Two Oceans ultra-marathons, to name but a few.

Having missed Comrades 2015 due to a niggling injury,  Grathel is already back on the road with her mind firmly set on finishing Comrades 2016 within a good time. Boasting four bronze medals, her best achievement by far is the Bill Rowan Medal, which she won for finishing in 8 hours 58 minutes in 2012.

‘It’s estimated that only about 20% of the field finishes within nine hours, so I’m really proud of my achievement!’

Heléne Rabie CA(SA), Triathlete

‘I believe taking part in sport creates opportunities to network. Juggling   your career and interest in sport then come together,’ says Heléne Rabie, financial and operations manager.

Heléne grew up on a farm in the Karoo on the banks of the Fish River just outside Cradock, and says her love for sport started with canoeing. For 30 years her parents organised the annual Fish River Canoe Marathon known as ‘The Fish’.

Both parents being sports enthusiasts and having participated in various sports, both on a provincial and national level, they shared their love for sport with their kids from a young age. Quality family time was always spent doing sporting activities together – paddling, cycling, horse-riding or some other kind of outdoor activity.

Having completed ten Fish River canoe marathons, ten Breede River canoe marathons, and the Berg River, Dusi and Orange River canoe marathons, Heléne says she was keen to try something different.

When she moved to Cape Town, she joined the Atlantic Triathlon Club. In 2014, she did her first IronMan 70.3, in East London. ‘I absolutely loved it and will be competing in my third IronMan 70.3, in Durban on 2 August 2015.’

‘I make time to train in the morning before and evening after work. I am fortunate to be living in one of the most beautiful suburbs and cities, Sea Point in Cape Town, and therefore I have easy access to training ground and eliminate having to cope with heavy traffic to work.’

Heléne has a number of achievements behind her name, her most recent being a first place in the three-day 2015 Gravel and Grape mountain bike race with her sister as her partner. In September 2015, she will be participating in the Cross Triathlon World

Championships in Sardinia, Italy. The Full IronMan is on her bucket list.

Melanie Marchbank CA(SA), Karate

In Melanie’s first year as an accounting student, she stumbled across an anonymous quote which has always represented the value a woman can add to a workplace: ‘A real woman makes her own decisions in life. She’s responsible, and doesn’t follow but she leads. She’s always about accomplishing goals and she never settles for anything less because she’s a woman, and nothing more.’

Along with her love for academia, which has seen her lecturing in the Department of Accountancy at the University of Johannesburg for the past six years, she is also passionate about karate.

Following in her eldest sister’s footsteps, Melanie started karate at the age of 12 and has been practising it for the past 24 years: ‘The karate style that I do is Japan Karate Association (JKA) Shotokan. The largest Shotokan affiliation in South Africa is directly affiliated to that in Japan.’

Melanie currently holds a fourth-degree black belt in karate, referred to as yondan. Later in the year she will be pursuing her fifth-degree black belt grading when the Japanese come to South Africa for the JKA African Cup tournament.

With a host of achievements in karate, her most recent has been in October 2014 at the Funakoshi Gichin Cup 13th Karate World Championship Tournament where she came eighth in the female individual kumite section, making it to the finals. She is only the second South African female in JKA South Africa to have ever made it to the finals.

In June 2015 she made the team to represent South Africa at the All Africa JKA Cup in October 2015.

For Melanie, contributing to a student’s success in a subject that they were initially struggling with gives her immense satisfaction: ‘The mere fact that you have made one small difference in someone’s life is enough to make you walk around with a huge smile like the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland.’

Lindani Dhlamini CA(SA), Runner

As CEO at SekelaXabiso, Lindani Dhlamini’s big goal is to grow SekelaXabiso to be a R1 billion annual turnover company and an international brand.

‘The work we do can be quite stressful and there are long hours involved. Gym and running assist me in finding some me time and managing my stress levels.’

Lindani has enjoyed running and going to the gym since varsity days. ‘I normally run around my neighbourhood three days per week at 5 am and do gym on the other days. Once your body gets used to getting up at 4:30 am, it’s pretty easy to maintain the discipline.’

Her daughter recently started playing tennis and is now challenging Lindani to do likewise.

Lindani believes women – particularly black women – remain under-represented in the profession. ‘We need more initiatives that are targeted at encouraging women to pursue this career. I particularly support initiatives like Thuthuka that are aimed at transforming  the profession. I have been a supporter of these initiatives over a number of years, because of the impact they have had. I also support initiatives that are targeted specifically at black women, like the ones run by the AWCA [African Woman Chartered Accountants]. More funding for initiative like these, so that they can be rolled out on a larger scale, would go a long way in transforming our profession.’

According to Lindani, it takes a whole army of people to assist her and ensure her life is run according to plan. ‘I’m a firm believer that you can’t do everything yourself and you need to surround yourself with people who can assist and who can take the load off you.’

Julanie Basson CA(SA), Runner

With all three her daughters born during her study and article years, Julanie Basson, a partner at PwC, says she was left with no time to even think about running. Her dad had always been a runner and although it took a number of years to follow in his tracks, she eventually did. And today she can’t imagine life without it.

It’s tough fitting running into her challenging career and family life schedule, but Julanie does manage to get it right. ‘To me, it boils down to proper planning, prioritisation, hard work, commitment, flexibility, and of course a good support structure.’

At the age of 28, she decided it was time to put on her running shoes, together with her sister-in-law. Her first goal was to run the Comrades the very next year.

‘I love being challenged, so this had to be my first goal. The first day I couldn’t even run 1 kilometre, but ten months later I finished my first Comrades in 10 hours 32 minutes – and cried pretty much the last 20 kilometres of the race! It was extremely tough and I was way too naive going into that race.’

But she was back year after year. For her seventh Comrades in 2008, she joined a coach and finished in 7 hours 25 minutes, earning her first silver medal.

‘I finished in 15th position in the ladies race and was absolutely over the moon!’

Set on a gold, she trained even harder: ‘It took a lot of hard work and commitment but in 2012 my dream came true when I earned my first of three gold medals, finishing in the tenth position.’

Unfortunately this year Julanie sustained a nasty hamstring injury shortly after the Two Oceans, so another gold was off the cards for Comrades 2015.

‘Luckily I earned my first gold medal at Two Oceans, so it was a bittersweet year for me.’

Mariska McKenzie CA(SA), Powerlifter

Competing in the 60-metre sprint as a 6-year-old Grade 1 pupil would be Mariska McKenzie’s greatest sporting achievement for the next 30 years of her life.

‘Like many CAs, I have spent my fair share of quality time behind a desk. At age 35, my natural pear-shaped body was becoming more pear-shaped by the day and my back was becoming painful after crunching away on my laptop for more than a couple of hours per day.’

Seeing the results of her husband’s physique since joining the gym made her envious and after  four months of pondering, she gathered all of her courage and scheduled a training session with William Ainslie, a qualified biokineticist and a South African (and African) weightlifting champion and record holder.

27 September 2014 marked the day she discovered a hidden treasure within herself that she never knew existed. ‘It was the day that I discovered that I was strong even though I am a woman with a fairly small frame; that dreams can become a reality even though it may take you 30 years to get there and that impossibility is only an illusion.’

Today Mariska competes in the 47-kilogram open category for women in classic powerlifting, which falls within the ambit of the South African Powerlifting Federation.

She also holds various South African records in this category (squat, 92,5 kilograms; bench press, 50 kilograms; and a total combination of squat, deadlift and bench press, 262,5 kilograms).

This year Mariska competed in the classic powerlifting world championships in Salo, Finland, and was placed ninth in the world.

Being a senior lecturer in the Accountancy Department at the University of Johannesburg gives her a fairly flexible work environment that enables her to prepare for lectures at night and weekends and allows her to train in the mornings.

Phumeza Nhantsi CA(SA), Runner

The same year Phumeza Nhantsi qualified as a CA(SA), she gave birth to her last-born. Within a few years from attaining a managerial position, she was promoted to audit director of SizweNtsalubaGobodo.

‘It was a career highlight for me to have been appointed to directorship within such a short space of time and to being the only black female director in my division.’

‘As you can imagine, I had gained a fair amount of weight after the birth of my last-born. In 2009 I started a few programmes to lose weight. Motivated by my friend, who was and still is a runner, I also started running.’

Phumeza started with 10 kilometres and then gradually increased. Today she runs full marathons and has attempted the Comrades twice.

For Phumeza, running has rather been a monologue through which she has learnt much about herself and her outlook on life. The following are a few outcomes of the conversations she has had with herself on the road:

  • ‘When I run I don’t compete with anyone except myself, “fighting with the inner voice that says I can’t do it”, so when I have completed the race I celebrate because I have won.’
  • ‘Running taught me to be patient.’
  • ‘Running has humbled me as a person. It has taught me that I can overcome any obstacle in my life if I put my mind to it.’

Phumeza comes from a family of eight children who were all raised by her mother, who worked hard to ensure that her children get a better education.

‘I am very proud of her. She used to motivate us by saying that “a diamond comes from the soil”,’ she says.

Thandeka Dhlamini CA(SA), Runner

During articles, Thandeka Dhlamini, manager reporting, GL & Governance at Sasol, participated once a year in an annual 5-kilometre corporate relay and once attempted a 10-kilometre race. It stopped there. Well, that’s what she thought as she never saw herself being a regular runner.

But her sister, who had been unsuccessfully trying to drag her along to participate in races, eventually struck luck and persuaded Thandeka to run a 10-kilometre Women’s Day race in August 2014.

Within three months of her first run, Thandeka attempted her first half marathon and completed it within the cut-off time.

‘I have since run five half marathons and numerous 10-kilometre races. From the first races that I ran, I have achieved many personal bests and happily improved my running time! I have a special place where I keep my medals and from time to time I look at them in awe of the kilometres that I have run.’

Thandeka admits running requires a lot of physical effort and dedication, but she is inspired by Caroline Wöstman’s wins in the Two Oceans and the Comrades: you can have a demanding career and still excel in other activities.

‘I find it easy to juggle running with work and family, as it is something I can do early in the morning or late in the evening. My day starts at about 4:30 when I wake up and prepare to go to the gym for training before going to work. I also participate in club time trials twice during the week, which start conveniently around 17:45.’

Her dream: ‘To participate in the ultimate race – the Comrades. I believe that I can!’

Tshegofaco Phahlane (née Rametsi) CA(SA), Runner

Describing her perfect day, Tshegofaco Phahlane, a project director at SAICA, says it would be starting at 5 am with a 10-kilometre run, followed by a productive day at work and heading back home to her husband and twin boys.

‘I prefer to run very early in the morning before life happens.’

Running is part of her life, so it is not too much of an effort to fit it into her schedule. Initially she did it to stay in shape, but once she started running races she fell in love with the camaraderie that’s associated with running.

To date she has completed four Two Oceans and hopes to continue until she gets a blue number – ten ultra runs or more. She also enjoys a bit of trail running and is currently training for her first big trail event, the Num-Num trail challenge, in August in Mpumalanga.

When asked how she stays healthy, she says: ‘It’s tough and I don’t always get it right. I find that keeping a food journal helps as I am always aware of what and how much I am eating. I also try to get enough sleep and exercise.’

Her late father was a big inspiration behind her pursuing the profession. Tshegofaco’s desire was to follow in his footsteps and become a surgeon, but he convinced her to follow the CA route instead.

‘I’m glad that he did and I listened!’

‘I think we have come a long way in transforming the profession, but the battle is still not won. We need to focus on the girl child and ensure that she has the confidence to pursue her dreams and believe in her unique talents. We do not need to imitate or be like our male counterparts to succeed.’

Author: Lynn Grala