Just like the Marine Iguanas that are exclusively and distinctively born on the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador and can’t be found in any other place on earth except on the Galápagos Islands, the town of Rehoboth too is blessed with a unique human gemstone that cannot be found elsewhere on earth except in Rehoboth.
The central-southern town of Rehoboth is home to Namibia’s legendary marathoner Luketz Swartbooi – a man widely regarded as a pioneer of Namibian marathon and a walking, talking, moving inspiration to the town and the country’s youth.
Now aged 55 and retired, the legendary Swartbooi has seen it all, done it all and has conquered everything imaginable on the international athletics trail. Not many people can inspire Namibia’s sprint icon Frank Fredericks, but to Fredericks’ own recent admission – Swartbooi is one such man.
The New Era Sport crew over the weekend had the distinct opportunity to have an up-close conversation with the iconic Swartbooi, who warmly welcomed us at his home at the town of Rehoboth, where he resides with his family.
Beaming a wary smile and sporting a maroon cap as well as a blue athletics tracksuit, the legendary Swartbooi accompanied by one of his sons and namesake Luketz Swartbooi Jnr, sat us down and took us through memory lane unpacking how his journey started off and shared some of the challenges he endured along the way.
“My love for athletics started at school when I was competing in the 1500m events. It started lightly but I was improving with every competition. I then went on to join a local athletic club in Katutura and it is there where I further honed my skills as a marathon runner. There, I also met many fellow runners and great coaches who helped push us further,” said Swartbooi, who along with Fredericks was among the first crop of athletes to represent the country at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.
Swartbooi shared that during the early days of his career, financial support towards local athletes was not so common but thanks to the Rehoboth business community, some good Samaritans would from time to time come to his aid and financially and materially assist with his preparations for major local and international competitions.
“There were some great people in our community here in Rehoboth those days who assisted me with preparations because such support towards local individual athletes was not so common in those days. Those are the people who made a difference. Despite the inexperience at the time, I gave it my all and competed with great determination for my country.”
Currently working full-time at the Rehoboth Town Council, Swartbooi reflected on how as a then inexperienced and amateur runner the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona shaped his career. Swartbooi did not finish the race in Barcelona but says the experience gained through the process was a valuable lesson and paved the way for future success.
After the Barcelona Olympics tepid performance, Swartbooi was now a determined athlete and a bit matured to handle the pressures of major competitions in packed-to-the-brim stadiums outside the country. As in 1993, he went on to win silver at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany in a time of 2:14:11.
As the world was now taking notice of a slender Namibian giant-slayer marathoner with a wary smile, Swartbooi on the other hand was not slowing down as he continued hogging headlines on the international athletics circuit. In 1994 in Boston, USA, an unstoppable Swartbooi surprised all and sundry when he set his personal best time of 2:09:08 after finishing third overall.
Away from the international arena, Swartbooi was winning everything on offer on the Namibian and South African athletics calendars, as his remarkable time of 2:11:23 clocked during his 1992 triumph of the Rössing Marathon still stands unbroken to this day.
Swartbooi also represented the country at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia and finished 48th overall in a time of 2:22:55, and also competed at the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton, Canada and finished 28th overall after clocking 2:25:40. At the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, UK, Swartbooi finished 5th with a time of 2:13:40.
With all the knowledge and experience gained throughout the years, Swartbooi shared that his short-term goal is to start mentoring upcoming athletes, especially in the marathon discipline.
“My goal is to now start
coaching the young upcoming athletes, to share all the knowledge and experience I gained throughout the years. It has been my dream for a long while now and soon if the Covid-19 situation allows, I want to get my plans in motion. I want to help aspiring marathoners achieve their dreams too. Namibia has lots of talent,” said the iconic Namibian runner, who recently had the honour of having a street named after him at the town of Rehoboth.
As far as government support towards athletes and the situation of dilapidated sport facilities is concerned, Swartbooi said: “I think government should try and prioritise the construction and upgrading of more sports facilities at schools because that is where it all starts. That is where I started and I know the difference that such facilities will bring to the athletes and communities. It will also encourage many of our youth to start partaking in sports at different levels. It would also mean that more kids would be off the streets because they will no longer have time to indulge in bad activities. With sports, discipline is the most important thing that you can learn from it, so I believe getting more youth into sport will mean their mindset will be changed and the way they behave will change, which will lead to fruitful conversations in our society,” he concluded.