Chantel Nienaber 2019 interview

Artist, athlete; valley low, mountain high.

Chantel Nienaber thought her future involved the world of art. She found that life had other plans for her. Read on for her truth as printed in TRAIL 30, our issue with Chantel Nienaber on the cover.

Most athletes have a sporty upbringing. I studied fine arts, and didn’t come from an athletic heritage at all. I was born in Pretoria 1973, and attended St Paulus Convent during my primary school years, relocating to Johannesburg for high school. There I was fortunate to be selected to attend the Art, Ballet, Music and Drama School. I continued with my love for art at Wits Technikon, majoring in print making and sculpture. The fact that I came from a small convent and cultural school, certainly didn’t open many athletic doors for me.

Chantel Nienaber fact box TRAIL 30How it began 

I got into fitness to fast-track my life after getting married at 21 to Markus (then a minister).

Find out how Chantel Nienaber went from artist to athlete in TRAIL 30, page 36.

In the deep end 

Most people run trail and enter races for fun. I race for bread and butter. Don’t get me wrong – I love being out in the mountains but I rarely have the luxury of doing just that. With our family relying on just one income, I need to race for the money.

Chantel Nienaber and Katya Soggot clebrate AfricanX 2018 by tobias Ginsberg TRAIL 30A few years ago, I did a trail race in Knysna which had R1,200 prize money. My son needed stationery for the start of a new school year. I ran my butt off in that race, knowing that no win meant no stationery money.

It’s not easy. I have to put in a full week’s work (seeing at least 8-10 clients daily). Then I still need to train for two hours daily, using weekends for longer runs.

My husband Markus was diagnosed with ataxia at the age of 32. (It’s a degenerative disease of the nervous system.) 

He started experiencing problems with his balance, and after a few months we realised something was seriously wrong. The neurologist told us that time would tell if his condition had plateaued or if it was progressive. Over the past years we have come to terms with the fact that Markus’ disease is gradually getting worse every year.

Chantel Nienaber helping others

Since Markus has a disability, one of my main focuses is to try helping other people who are medically challenged. That’s why we are involved with the Sabrina Love Foundation.

As one of their ambassadors, I highlight the phenomenal work the Foundation does and also help raise money through the Support-A-Star initiative. A key fundraising event for them is the Sabrina Love Ocean Challenge that takes place in Plettenberg Bay over the festive season.

Chantel Nienaber Cableway Charity Challenge Platteklip Gorge by Luigi Bennett TRAIL 30All of the funds raised over the two days go directly towards the running costs of the Foundation. I attend the Ocean Challenge every year, participating in as many events as possible, while trying to encourage others to support this worthwhile cause and having lots of fun in doing so. 

Another worthy cause  in my diary every year is the Cableway Charity Challenge. What I love about this event is it’s all about challenging yourself. Each participant tries to summit Table Mountain as many times as they can, from dawn to dusk. The 200 individuals that summit the mountain via Platteklip Gorge generate funds for various selected charities. Participants get friends and family to sponsor them per summit. The more summits completed, the more the charity benefits. The Cableway Charity Challenge raises around R1 million annually. I’m grateful to be a small part of it. 

I also hosted the Every Boob Counts run in 2013, which was initiated after  I had completed The Valley Run the previous year (basically an off-road Comrades). After The Valley Run, I saw how people can raise money for a good cause with their athletic abilities.

(That year, R86,000 was raised for The Unlimited Child charity in KZN). So Markus and I decided to host an event to highlight breast cancer. All the money raised was used to buy prosthetic breasts for women who’d had a mastectomy and couldn’t afford to purchase them themselves. We organised a 100 mile (160km) trail run with 40 participants, raising nearly R100,000. We encouraged everyone to dress up in pink and basically just have fun! 

We’ll be doing another Every Boob Counts run over the weekend of 9/10 February 2019.

Chantel Nienaber career race win TRAIL 30Chantel Nienaber’s highest calling

I’m a running coach and personal trainer (a far cry from fine arts). I’ve been helping people to be the best that they can for 15 years. I’m probably an extension of my husband’s belief in me.

He has always pushed me to accomplish things that I never thought I was capable of. In doing so, I have realised how much we limit ourselves. It excites me when I see my clients extend their boundaries to become the best that they can be.


I would like to be remembered as someone who has integrity, is reliable, and never gives up. I think what makes me an endurance athlete is my attitude to life: “It’s never over ‘til the fat lady sings.”

Read the full interview on pages 36 and 37 of TRAIL 30, on shelves January to March 2019. Find out how Chantel went from an artist to an athlete, and get Danette Smith‘s take on Hotpants Nienaber as a friend.

Follow Chantel Nienaber on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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