When a toddling La-eequah Jansen burst into a run one day, her mother thought she would never be caught. The fast-twitch muscle fibres that hurl sprinters ahead of plodding pedestrians were beginning to show their substance. Her family resides in Manenberg, an area known for its gangs. Through athletics, Jansen has spent the last ten years running away from those dark roads – barefoot.
Nicknamed ‘Zola Budd’, after the famous barefoot Olympian, Jansen’s young sprinting career has been forged on tough ground. Despite starting without running shoes of any kind the 12-year-old excelled at the 100m and 150m races, her most recent achievement representing Western Province in both distances.
Jansen’s success in the midst of adversity has inspired her community. Her school, Downeville Primary, donated a pair of running spikes to the energetic athlete. The formerly barefoot runner now owns the speed-merchant’s apparatus vital to competing at higher levels. But Jansen’s most important asset is her brain. The young South African believes that her strong mind-set is what will carry her over the finish line and give her family a better future.