When it comes to women that has the courage to live life outside the norm, inspiring other women to take up whatever is thrown at them and prosper than Chantel “Hotpants” Nienaber is that woman. We had a chat to her about being a super athlete, business woman and a mother.
Who is Chantel Nienaber and where did the running start?
I grew up in Johannesburg and lived there till the age of 24. I went to the Art, Ballet, Drama and Music School (where they didn’t offer any sporting activities). I went on to study Fine Arts at Wits — still no sports. I got married at the age of 21, tried making a living as a fine artist and had my son at 25.
At the age of 33, I started working on a golf estate as the Sport and Leisure Manager and Personal Trainer (during my interview, the CEO mentioned that she would be keen for us to run together — eek). This is where my running career started or shall I say jogging (considering our pace was very leisurely).
The CEO and I enter the Pick n Pay Knysna half marathon; we completed it in just less than 2 hours. For the following few years, I continued to plod along- until 2007.
My hubby told me that Kevin Vermaak (host of the Cape Epic) had introduced a 5 day, 220 km trail race from Hermanus to Stellenbosch — “The Cape Odyssey”. Three months later I was ready for my very first trail race. Considering it was a tad too far and I had NO running experience — I miraculously made it until day four. Much to my dismay, I was pulled out of the race by the medics due to the fact that I was running/hobbling completely peg-legged down the hill into a ravine because of a very serious ITB injury.
The following year I returned and managed to be an official finisher of the Cape Odyssey 2008. Sadly the Odyssey was discontinued in 2009, resulting in me barely doing any more trail running.
2011 saw me enter the Wild Coast Wild Run, a three-day trail race. My dear husband told me that under no circumstances would ending second be an option. It was then — at the age of 37, that I became a competitive athlete.
I have since done more than 70 races, thankfully being 1st on 40 occasions, 2nd approximately 20 times, with a few third places (and on one or two races I’ve either almost killed myself or just bombed). I have represented SA twice abroad in Ultra distance trail races and I’ve even given obstacle course racing a go too.
That’s me in a nutshell.
Except for being a serious athlete you are also a wife and a mother – how do you manage?
Due to a VERY limited amount of time allocated to my own training schedule, I concentrate on quality (as opposed to quantity) – especially when it comes to my running. People are often surprised at how little I actually run throughout the week and still manage to be an Ultra distance athlete. Fortunately I’ve built up a good foundation over the past few years and find that if I stick to the basics, I don’t tend to suffer from many injuries.
What is your mantra that keeps you going?
I cling to the words of Kenyan marathoner Paul Tergat: “When you physically feel like you have given it your all. Ask yourself, “Can I give more?”
The answer is usually ‘Yes’.
The hot pants…how did it start and what is the story behind it?
My hubby bought my first pair of ‘No Chance’ hot pants when I started competing. I realized that if I wanted to make a name for myself I needed to stand out. After a few races is just became my trademark. I don’t run around in hot pants all day, that’s just my sporting persona. I have been asked if I am an exhibitionist, and I try to explain where I’m coming from, but not everybody gets it. On the other hand, I have been told by many people that I inspire them, both with my results and with the shape I’m in at 43 years of age, and inspiring others is far more important to me than a few people not approving of my outfit!
What does Women’s Month mean to you?
Everyone knows I am all for women power and I am always fighting for equal rights so Women’s Month is a time to celebrate being a girl.
What advice do you have for other female runners out there that would like to follow in your footsteps?
Be yourself – You can still be feminine and “hard core”. Keep it real. Don’t worry if you can’t get into the mountains as regularly as you’d like to due to safety reasons. Try to find a guy that runs at your pace and head onto the trails with him. Remember: trail running is about running wild and free and being one with nature.
And last question…what would your super hero name be?