The Vegan Runner, Nezaam Isaacs

Nezaam Isaacs and Niezaam Cariem at the Zevenwacht 10km race.

Nezaam Isaacs and Niezaam Cariem at the Zevenwacht 10km race.

By Nizaam Cariem

On Sunday, 27 November 2016, Shaheen Patel of Itheko invited me to join him and other runners for an informal trail run. It is here that I met Nezaam Isaacs for the first time. With a camera in his hand borrowed from fellow Itheko runner Hassiem Fisher, Nezaam leads us on a beautiful run along the mountain. My first impression is: “who is this abrasive, strongly opinionated man leading us?” also “he has this bad cough, he should check it out”. Bustling with energy, he leads us on a tiring 16km run and he doesn’t raise a sweat while taking 100s of photos. My opinion mellows as we talk about running. He doesn’t seem bad and we don’t chat about our personal lives.

10th December 2016 Nezaam attempts the Ultimate Trail 100km but it goes wrong for him on the day. After about 14km, Nezaam collapses on the mountain and is airlifted via helicopter to a nearby hospital. We are all concerned but Nezaam is up and running within a matter of days. A few days later, at a get together, he is a given a toy helicopter. He accepts graciously and with good humour, characteristics that he always showed. Behind the laughs though lies a steely determination in his eyes as he tells us he will go back and finish the 100k next year. I believe he will, as he is a fighter. We chat about stuff, running mostly. I wonder what he does for a living but I decide that I’ll ask him next time. I never end up asking.

January 8th 2017 is the day of the Bay to Bay 30km. A few days before the race, Nezaam confidently tells us that he believes he will do a sub-2:30. I try to stay close to him but he is too fast on the day, as I hear his cough slowly fade away as he runs off into the distance. He is 10 years my senior but he showed me who is king of the hills as he gets his sub 2:30. He encourages me to do better next time and again we don’t talk about our personal lives.

Nezaam decides to become a vegan as he decides to cut meat entirely out of his diet. We laugh at his expense and tease him. He laughs with us but he shows remarkable discipline and self restraint for the vegan lifestyle. I never see him eat meat and I decide that I will ask him about his life before running and becoming a vegan but I never get to.

Nezaam easily does a sub-45 at the Topform 10km race and then a sub-3.30 for the Cango Marathon. A remarkable achievement for somebody who once weighed 130kg 10 years ago. He completed his first 10km in 2 hours. He inspires me to hopefully achieve the same. We meet up at races, we talk, we laugh, he meets my wife – he never knew I was married until he met her.

We take one final pic together at the Zewenwacht 10km race on 30th April. Afterwards, I wonder where he stays. I decide that I will ask him but I never do.

I meet his daughter at the Slave Route Challenge. I never knew he had a daughter until that day.

The last running memory I have of him is the effortless manner in which he ran up Koeksister Hill at the Slave Route Challenge. I think that was the last time I saw him.

A few days before he passed on, Nezaam mentioned that he had stopped smoking and I am happy for him. I think I won’t have to hear him cough at a race again.

On Tuesday 6 June 2017, Nezaam tragically passes away.

While Nezaam had accomplished so much in the past few years, running multiple Two Oceans and Comrades ultra-marathons, it still seemed like he had so much to accomplish. He was in the prime of his life and at peak fitness. It’s crazy that I met him a few months ago but it felt like I knew him for a lifetime. We knew nothing about each other besides that we both had a passion for running and that was enough for us.

We runners are a different breed – there is a bond, a closeness between us that you can only understand if you’re a runner. We are there for each other, support one another, on and off the track, in and out of the gym, before, during and after a race. Nezaam was like an older brother for us younger runners following in his footsteps.

He was Born 2 Run, Strong 2 Run.

Go well my friend as you run watch over us.