Swimmers Step up to the Plate

Welcome to the first in a series of articles, written by Champion South African Swimmers. Our first columnist is Tadhg (pronounced Tie) Slattery, medallist and veteran of five Paralympic games. This incredible young man has overcome Cerebral Palsy and deafness and will be a regular contributor during 2009, keeping our readers up to speed on the strokes and dives of swimming in South Africa.

I love to swim! The first time I got into a pool was when I was 3 years old. I had a tube around me to help me float. It was good exercise and movement for my Cerebral Palsy.
We left Durban in ‘77 and moved to Johannesburg where I attended St. Vincent’s School for the Deaf and Mrs Cuthbert taught me how to swim. I was 7 years old. Miss Long would swim with me and help me to swim in the deep pool as I was so scared of the deep water.

In my first gala at St. Vincent’s I competed against deaf able-bodied swimmers. I can’t remember where I finished but I know I didn’t come last! I was surprised when they announced me the winner of The Most Improved Swimmer trophy. I never expected to win my first trophy when I was only 9 years old.

My brothers, Michael and Fergus, did their swimming training at Wanderers Club under coach George Jacobson (now living in Canada). I wanted to be like them. They won quite lots of medals. My brothers were involved in lots of different sports. I wanted to be like them. I didn’t think that I was disabled. I told my mom and dad that I wanted training. I wanted to earn lots of medals too. I wanted to do soccer, cricket, tennis and gymnastics.

When I was 9 years old, my mom asked George Jacobson, if I could train with him at Wanderers Club. I was so thrilled to join his club, I was so happy to be like my two brothers. George’s office walls were covered with pictures of Olympic medallists. I would gaze at the pictures and dream of one day becoming an Olympic swimmer. When I was 11 my mom took me to Hope School. I met some disabled swimmers and finally realized that I am disabled. Mrs Alta Crous classified me according to which disability class I should be swimming in.
Within a year I qualified for the South Africa Junior Championship and went to Pretoria representing Southern Transvaal. I won 5 medals! In the 25m Breast I won gold and broke my first South African record. I knew my future looked bright. I have never looked back and still represent Gauteng today.
At 17 years old, I was selected for the Junior Springbok Team. We went to America for the World Junior Championships but were barred from competing due to apartheid. I decided that I didn’t care about swimming anymore because we were not allowed to compete internationally. How could I get my medals if we were not allowed to compete? So after Matric (1989) I went to live in Ireland to swim for them, but my parents weren’t happy with me over there.
Then the great news came in 1990. South Africa had been accepted back into the international sporting arena. I came home and trained very hard for the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics. But first I had to qualify. That meant getting into the South Africa Disabled Swimming Championships at Stellenbosch. I also changed to different swimming classification. By the closing ceremony at Stellenbosch I had managed to qualify in 4 Paralympic events. When they read my name out as part of the Barcelona shadow team I got goosebumps.

There were about 14 of us chosen for the shadow team and a place in the actual team was still unsure. A few months later, they announced my name and I was in the South African Paralympic team. My dream had come true. I trained very hard. That first time, I won the gold medal and world record for 100m breaststroke. I kept on training and have now competed at FIVE Paralympic games and achieved 23 world records.
During my career I was fortunate enough to meet my hero, Andy Scott. He had always been an inspiration to me as he had broken the breaststroke world record when he was only 14 years old and broke a total of 14 world records. I always wanted to be like him and now I have beaten his number of world records!

Drug scandals have a very negative impact on sports. I always carry a sports drug book with me. If I go to the chemist for pills I take out the book to make sure the pills are not banned. I also never leave my water bottle lying around as you never know what someone will put into it.

It has not been easy keeping a balance between life and sport. I was lucky to have a wonderful family. My mom and dad are my role models. They encouraged and supported me and made me a good swimmer. I am also lucky to have my three wonderful brothers who inspired me.

As Rolling is focusing on Valentines in this issue I felt it only fair to confess that I am in a loving relationship with a wonderful lady. Sorry girls!
More next issue … - Tadhg Slattery

Happy Birthday Swimming Heroes!

What do you want for your Birthday this year?
Shireen Sapiro - 25 Jan: It’s my 18th so I would love to get a car. Maybe a nice black beemer?
Natalie du Toit - 29 Jan: I want people to join me in looking for the positive and happy things in life and then to share them with everybody else. Look for the beauty in life and pass it on!
Adri Visser - 19 Feb: My wheelchair is soooo ancient. I‘d love a new one.

Natalie du Toit joins Bishop Desmond Tutu in Healing Our Rainbow Nation
Delville Pool, Germiston was a flurry of excitement in December. Natalie du Toit, Adri Visser and Radio 2000 announcer, Doug Anderson, took the opportunity to join South African Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in signing the “Heal Our Rainbow Nation” pledge.
The pledge is a joint venture between the Association for the Physically Disabled and Barrier Breakers. A donation of just one rand buys a pledge form and part of that gets donated to the charity of your choice.

This beautiful pledge starts off:

  • I am Proudly South African.
  • I publicly declare my opposition to any form of prejudice and discrimination.
  • I believe in the right of every individual to be treated with dignity and respect.
  • I will strive to build bridges and break down barriers…

If you would like to join Natalie and Adri and aid in the healing of our Rainbow Nation please call APD on 011 646 8331 to buy a pledge form.
Why not buy lots of pledges and get your family and friends involved, or even the boss? You could turn it into a special event, take photos and send them to APD for uploading on to their website.

Companies who sign the pledge, and encourage their employees to sign, will also be listed on the APD website, along with their logo. What better way to tell the world that you care about, and believe in, our beautiful Rainbow Nation?
To see the pledge in full go to the APD website www.apd.org.za and click on the red “Against Prejudice and Discrimination” logo.

The Central Gauteng Aquatics Annual Long course (50m) Championships were held in December at Delville in Germiston. The results show that the swimmers have continued the outstanding form that got them to Beijing despite the fact that many of them had been writing exams at school. Shireen Sapiro managed some truly impressive times and broke the 50m Backstroke World Record (still to be ratified). Well Done Shireen! She’s still young (turning 18) and we are sure that she will continue to dominate the pool for many years to come.

Natalie du Toit’s name is splashed all over the results as she also competes in the able-bodied events. What many people still fail to realise is that Natalie is South Africa’s fastest able-bodied female swimmer over the open water course. There are able-bodied swimmers that can catch her over a shorter distance but the minute you get into distances of 800 metres or more she becomes unbeatable. When she finished 16th in the 10km Marathon in Beijing she swam for two hours and only finished one minute and twenty-two seconds behind the winner, beating nine of the world’s greatest able-bodied swimmers. What makes that all the more impressive is that Natalie does not use a prosthetic device when she competes in able-bodied events; it is her one-and-a-half legs versus everybody else’s two.

February 14th sees the SA National Open Water Championships in the Free State town of Maselspoort. Natalie will be there, hoping to qualify for Rome. And then it’s Gauteng Schools Trials for National High Schools and Primary Schools on 6th and 7th March which includes disabled swimmers. Primary Schools will be at Delville, Germiston and High Schools at Kingspark, Durban. See you there?

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