South African runners find a home in Wilton
Wilton became home last week for a group of high school girls from South Africa, who had travelled to the United States to compete in this weekend’s Penn Relays.
The 10 girls, ages 15-18, arrived in the U.S. on April 16 with their two coaches and two chaperones. They spent the next week being hosted by five Wilton families, while getting in some training locally and sight-seeing in New York City.
The girls are from La Rochelle Girls High School, in Paarl, South Africa, which is located about 60 kilometres northeast of Cape Town.
After visiting Washington, D.C., this week, the team heads to Philadelphia for the 122nd Penn Relays, which begin on Friday at the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field.
Coach André van der Burgh said this is the first South African team to ever compete at the prestigious event.
Asked how the visit to Wilton had been, van der Burgh replied, “Absolutely brilliant. The hospitality and everything here is fantastic.”
The Wilton connection came about through van der Burgh’s son, Christian, who is a tennis pro at the Wilton Riding Club, where he got to know Wilton resident John Wiseman.
Last summer, when André was visiting, Wiseman invited him to his house for dinner. It was then they first talked about the possibility of having the girls stay in Wilton when they came over.
“I needed somewhere to be for a week for the kids and I started to interact with him, and here we are,” van der Burgh said last week at the WHS track, where he was watching the Wilton boys meet with his team and fellow coach Marianna Schoeman.
“He was hoping to make it a little more of an experience for them,” said Wiseman, who talked to Wilton track coach Jim Gerweck to see if he could find families to host the girls.
Gerweck then reached out to the track and field community, and found four families to host the girls — the Highland, Rava, Colburn and Jones families. Wiseman and his wife Cindy also hosted two girls.
“I think they had a really great time and some of them definitely made connections,” said Wiseman.
The girls — Tammy Bosch, Jeanmarie Rosseau, Leandra Cusdodio, Katinka Louw, Louise Conradie, Brithaney Ludick, Tonet Tallie, Micola Soenies, Isabella Pellissier and Tatum Maher — got to show off their talent when they took part in the Wilton girls track and field team’s meet on April 17 in Norwalk.
“They crushed it,” said Wiseman. “There was no one near them.”
Coach van der Burgh said six of the girls had never been overseas before, and was grateful that the team found a home base in Wilton for the first week in the country.
“They opened their homes and their houses and we’re very blessed that we can enjoy their hospitality,” he said. “And we hope that some of them, or everybody, can come to South Africa. We will reciprocate.”
Wiseman said there was a chance the La Rochelle girls would return next year, and noted that several families who learned about it after the fact have already expressed interest in hosting the team next year.