Three days a week, around 50 children gather on a field in Bonteheuwel, Cape Town. Not all of them have food in their bellies or shoes on their feet. But they run furiously – hoping to stay away from drugs and gangs and end up somewhere brighter.
Riyaad Avontuur, 39, knows their struggle for survival and significance. He emerged from a lonely wilderness of addiction and wants to steer kids on the Cape Flats away from the same fate.
“I have been clean for 480 days from drugs and bad friends,” he admits to News24 on Thursday, sharing a time before he ever thought of coaching promising athletes.
As a youth, he played soccer but then got involved in the wrong crowd when he believed there was no future for him.
In and out of rehab, he finally saw the light and was able to reunite with his wife Tasneem and nine-year-old daughter Nishaad after eight years.
“I saw my child was a good runner and doing well in sports. Every Saturday, we started running on a field,” he explains.
“Soon children started asking: ‘Can we run with you, uncle?'”
After a family discussion, they decided to open an athletics club in Bonteheuwel.
Members of the athletics club warm up on the field. (Supplied)
“I went to the primary schools to ask principals to send their children to the field. It started with two kids, then five kids and now we are around 50 kids between the ages of seven and 18. The children are very excited to come to practice.
“Nishaad is so excited because her friends can also do running.”
They train on the field at Cedar Primary School for around two hours every Monday and Wednesday and three hours on Saturday mornings.
Riyaad says because the area is afflicted by gangsterism, talented youngsters slip under the radar.
“The kids don’t have takkies but I know there can be a Caster Semenya or Wade van Niekerk here. There is more than guns and drugs in Bonteheuwel.
“We just need the exposure to show other people we also have potential.”
Like a proud father, he shares that his children have clocked a time of 11.25 seconds in the 100m sprint.
Some people have assisted with cereal donations and sponsored shorts and shirts in black and lime green – their new club colours.
But the air is getting cooler and Riyaad hopes someone will assist with tracksuits and spikes for training on grass and gravel.
The club also needs equipment such as starting blocks.
Riyaad would love a vehicle so he can pick the children up from school and drop them off at home after practice. He wants them to stay off the streets and do their homework.
He was offered a job, but feels he cannot let the children down.
“If I work, what is going to happen to these 50 children now? Most of the children come from a poor, poor background. I just keep them here because I want them to be something in life one day.”
Riyaad with his wife Tasneem, his father Edmund, daughter Nishaad and club member Mickah. (Supplied)