If you travel to Conway, South Carolina, you will most likely come across Coastal Carolina University; a small Division I school that sports a total population of less than 9,000 students. The cross-country and track programs have had their share of successful, proven runners over the years — many of whom have conference championships on their resumes.
But none of them have quite the resume their assistant coach has.
Twenty-six years removed from breaking the world record in the women’s 5,000-meter run and setting United Kingdom records in the 1,500 meters, one mile, and 3,000 meters, Zola Budd – now Zola (Budd) Pieterse – couldn’t be happier helping Coastal Carolina’s distance program.
“I have enjoyed it tremendously,” Pieterse said of her role with the team, “I have been involved for three years on a part-time basis and have been traveling to races with the university, which is great.” Despite her three years of work, Zola Pieterse still doesn’t consider herself a coach; rather, she prefers to refer to her role with the team as a “co-runner who might be helpful.”
It’s help the Coastal Carolina program welcomes with open arms.
“Having her around for the past three years has been an incredible experience, says Kyle Kling, a senior distance runner and former Big South Conference 1500 meter champion for Coastal. “Her passion for the sport is incredible. When you can see a world-class athlete still having fun with the sport years after her prime, it puts things in perspective for you. It reminds you why you are really out there hitting the streets every day.”
But the question still remains: Why would Zola Pieterse leave South Africa, her native country, for Myrtle Beach, SC? The answer, although common for many Myrtle Beach transplants, seems unusual for a world-class runner: golf.
“We had the opportunity to move to the U.S. for a few years, and I wanted to do the Masters circuit,” explains Pieterse. “We chose Myrtle Beach because my husband is a golf fanatic and there are many golf courses here.”
And while her husband is out exploring the endless golfing fun Myrtle Beach has to offer, Pieterse takes full advantage of the Masters Circuit she competes in. On July 6th Pieterse competed in the World Masters Athletic Championships in Sacramento, CA. She immediately took the lead in the 8K cross-country race, but finished second as Spain’s Soledad Castro Solino finished strong over the last two miles to win in 28:52.7 (to Pieterse’s 29:19.9).
“I felt really good in the beginning but went out too fast and paid the price in the end,” Pieterse says as she reflects. “It was a very tough race, and I was exhausted afterwards, but I had a great time.”
When asked about her future and whether she will continue to live in Myrtle Beach, Pieterse could only say for sure that she will be in South Carolina next year. She has no set-in-stone plans beyond that. She and her family may return to South Africa, where Pieterse helps promote Newton Shoes – a brand of running shoes that replaces the gel or foam of ordinary running shoes with a patented “Action/Reaction Technology.” This technology promotes natural running and aids in propelling a runner forward in his/her stride.
A shoe that promotes natural running physiology is something Zola, a famed barefoot runner, adamantly supports. “I think it is very unfortunate that kids are forced to wear shoes in the U.S. wherever they go [when] a lot of injury problems can be avoided by developing the right foot muscles as kids.” Pieterse also recommends training barefoot only on safe running surfaces. “You have to approach barefoot running very conservatively,” says Pieterse, “especially if you are not used to going barefoot, and be sure that you take the necessary precautions.”
It’s this running philosophy that has made Zola Pieterse one of the most successful runners in the history of the sport. Twenty-six years removed from rewriting the record books, Zola Pieterse doesn’t consider any of those accomplishments to be her greatest. After everything she has done, what stands out to her?
That at the age of 45, with 30 years of experience under her belt, she’s still running.
Mike Ali is a senior at High Point University where he runs cross country and majors in English and minors in communications. He has run competitively since he was 12 and only won a race once. He is a loud talker, and a louder writer.