Paul Kilfoil's World of Travel, Technology & Sport

Posted on  by Paul Kilfoil.
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Everybody in the running community of the Western Cape knew (or knew of) Chet Sainsbury. He was a larger-than-life figure who, in the course of his 27 years as race director of the Two Oceans Marathon, turned this relatively minor event into the world-renowned race it is today. And he managed this for most of that period part-time ; he only retired from his "day job" at a large insurance company in 2003. Chet's outstanding leadership and organizational skills led to the Two Oceans Marathon consistently being voted the most well-organized race in South Africa. He also succeeded in running the 56-kilometre ultra marathon no less than 32 times, even though he took up road running at the relatively advanced age of 35.

Chet Sainsbury doing what he loved most - running the
Two Oceans Marathon in the colours of Celtic Harriers

Chet was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, and despite fighting the disease with typical Sainsbury determination it was a battle that even his legendary toughness could not win. The running world mourned when he died on 23 February 2016.

I had the privilege of working with Chet Sainsbury in his capacity as race director of the Two Oceans Marathon (and later when he was a member of the board) for 15 years. During that time I came to know many of his outstanding attributes, but what impressed me most was his absolute integrity and total commitment to making the Two Oceans Marathon the best-run event it could possibly be. In this modern day of bribery, graft, corruption and people with hidden agendas, it was refreshing to meet somebody with no desire for personal glory or enrichment, but whose motivation was simply to make the event better for everybody involved - runners, spectators, sponsors and administrators. Needless to say, I had enormous respect for him.

I learnt that Chet's cancer had reached a critical stage in January 2016. I phoned him at home shortly afterwards and had a long (and as it turned out, final) conversation with him. As usual, he was positive and cheerful, and expressed a hope to see me at the 2016 Two Oceans Marathon on 26 March. Unfortunately, from what I'd heard of his condition that didn't seem very likely ...

Chet Sainsbury was a regular competitor in the three major endurance sports events in South Africa. His record is as follows:

Event Distance Medals Best Time
Two Oceans Marathon 56 km  32  3:58:01 
Comrades Marathon 89 km  14  6:56:53 
Cape Town Cycle Tour 109 km  24  3:37:21 

Chet's memorial service in Rondebosch on 3 March was packed to the rafters with people who came to pay their respects to the man known as "Mr Two Oceans". Chet's family has lost a dedicated and loving husband, father and grandfather ; the running community has lost a passionate servant of the sport.

Chet : Thank you for the memories, and rest in peace.

  © Paul Kilfoil, Cape Town, South Africa