Beth Nothling of KwaZulu-Natal has been identified by the South African Sports Association for Physically Disabled as a swimmer with potential for 2008.
At the beginning of May, the young 16-year-old, born with cerebral palsy, flew to the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester. This was a trip she won at the recent Nedbank Championships from VISA International because of her excellent performance there. In Bloemfontein, her third championships, Beth won five gold medals, setting new South African records in all five events! Says her coach, Denise Ball: "Beth is really excelling at the moment. She won the 50, 100 and 200m freestyle and the 50 and 100m breaststroke in the S54 and Sb5 classifications for freestyle and breastroke respectively."
Heather Nothling, Beth's mother, is very proud of her daughter.
"Beth's swimming started as therapy in grade 3. However, it was something Beth always wanted to do. Her brother swam competitively, so she was always keen to be part of the swimming squad."
Since then Beth has had several coaches and when she was in grade 7, age 13, she started with husband and wife team Denise and Ivan. They have been working with Beth for the past two and a half seasons.
Says Denise: "I mainly work with Beth, who is the first disabled swimmer we have trained." This, Denise admits, was challenging in the beginning. However, the pleasure of working with Beth quickly outweighed the challenges. 'Beth is such a hard worker and she never complains. In winter we train in 14ºC water, which is quite cold. Beth just puts on her wetsuit and trains. She is such a credit to our swimmers."
Heather says Beth has always been a very determined young lady when she sets her sights on something, not just her swimming. "She has been in a mainstream school her whole life. Her schoolwork takes her hours. Her mobility is another example of her determination. Doctors didn't have a lot of hope for her to be very mobile, but through therapy and her own determination she has been much more mobile than anyone ever thought she would be. She is now, however, comfortable in a wheelchair which she was not before.”
Beth lives and trains in Ladysmith. "Unfortunately we don't have the luxury of a heated pool. When Beth was selected for the Natal squad, we travelled an hour and a half every day to Newcastle to train for the same amount of time in a heated pool. After we would travel back again - a round trip of four and a half hours," explains Denise.
This is pure dedication from the Grade 11 pupil. Heather agrees here, saying: "Beth's father and I don't believe in putting a child in a box. You have to let them try, so we have always encouraged Beth to try whichever activities she wanted to."
However, before the Bloemfontein champs her coaches were worried she had not trained as much as she needed to. Says Denise, "I was really nervous because of the training and then when we got to Bloemfontein, she had been classified as an open. She is really under 16 and I was not happy for her to be grouped with seniors before next year. However, it all worked out and she swam in her own age group."
At her first championships Beth won three gold medals in the 50m, 100m freestyle and the 50m breastroke. In her next year she won four gold medals in the 50 and 100m freestyle and breastroke events. "This year Beth's performance at the championships has shown her growth as a swimmer. She did not even realise that she had set a new record after her first event."
Beth swims with her upper body only. "Using her legs causes them to go into spasms. It means she has to work and train really hard. Her training encompasses a lot of repetitive work. I can honestly say when she swims she puts everything into it."
It has been a very long season for Beth, who has really had no time off, so Denise was thrilled when she won the trip to Manchester. "It is a great reward for all her hard work. I was so pleased for her. The trip is to observe only so she will get a well deserved rest, but at the same time learn a lot."
Beth has now outgrown her wetsuit and presently she and Denise are looking for a sponsor for a really good quality thick wetsuit that will see her through this winter."
Says Heather: "When she said she wanted to be a champion swimmer and compete in the Paralympics, people didn't laugh, but reacted with noticeable scepticism."
Beth is looking to go to Beijing, and it is now a possibility. It is going to be a challenge, mainly because of the limited facilities we have and it is going to mean lots of sacrifices, but I know she will rise to meet every single one of them to get there.
"Beth is our miracle child. She has performed beyond our expectations."