Investing in the future

Three South African swimmers recently bought back two gold, three silver and a bronze medal from the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS) World Games.

The games were held at the end of September in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and coincided with the United Nations World Peace Day.

To celebrate the event, the ambassador of peace, football legend Pele was one of many personalities that joined the athletes and spectators at the opening ceremony of the event at the Sports Complex of Maracana Stadium in Celio de Barros. (Picture: Emily Gray on the podium.)

Participation in the event, the second Paralympics event in the world, after the Paralympic Games, was thrilling for the three South Africans, as around 1 000 athletes from 48 countries competed in nine different sports at the event.

Emily Gray, Lesley Davey and Mogale Sibusiso were part of a team sent by the South African Sports Association For Physically Disabled (SASAPD) and funded by The Lotto.

The three did South Africa proud returning with their haul of medals.

Iris Cunningham, of SASAPD, explained that their participation is all part of the SASAPD identifying athletes with potential. “This potential is especially looked for with a view to the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic games.”

Leslie competed in several events, including the 100m freestyle (S9), in which she narrowly missed bronze. She also swam the 100m breaststroke but unfortunately did not get a position. However, her moment came in the 50m freestyle (S9) when she won gold with her fellow swimmer, Emily winning bronze in the same event. Emily also won gold in the 100m backstroke (S9, S10) and silver in the 100m freestyle (S9). (Picture: Emily Gray and Lesley Davey)

Mogale won silver in the 200m individual medley for men (SM5, SM6). He just missed bronze in the 100m backstroke (S9, S10).

Liezel Theron, National sports convenor for the SASAPD, accompanied the swimmers. “It was a very good experience. The venue was fantastic despite the hotels not being wheelchair-friendly. However, the actual swimming venue and level of competition was very good.

“All three the swimmers gained valuable experience from being there and competing. You must keep in mind we only took two juniors and one senior, compared to countries like China that brought over massive teams, yet we came back two gold and three silver medals and a bronze. Also remember that Mogale is still a development swimmer.”

“We can be very proud of these swimmers; they are definitely up to standard. Emily is only 14 and she came home with a full pack of medals – gold, silver and bronze. Mogale brought home two silvers and Leslie a gold. We must remember that these are international medals.”

Theron says Leslie’s gold was very exciting as she was lay in fourth going in to the home stretch. “Over the last 10 metres she caught up and went on to win the gold.”
(Picture: Durban, South Africa: 17 April 2004, Disabled Sibusiso Mogale during the SA National Aquatic Championships held at Kings Park Aquatic Centre in Durban South Africa.) Photos by Touchline.

Leslie hails from KwaZulu-Natal, while both Emily and Mogale are from Central Gauteng.

While at 14, Emily is the baby of the group she shows great potential. She began swimming after she had to have her left leg amputated because of cancer three years ago and her father suggested swimming as rehabilitation.

She only really started swimming competitively six months ago. According to Emily’s coach at Waterborn, Pierre Williams, Emily has made amazing progress since then.

“Considering Emily started off at the level of a seven to eight year old about eight months ago, her progress is nothing short of surprising. By the same token she is very dedicated and disciplined in her application. She also allows herself to be coached.”

Emily trains six days a week for an hour and a half at a time. “While she has a long way to go, her times are only just short of qualifying for 2008. To me this a good indication of where she is heading.”

Apart from participating in Rio, Emily also went to Sheffield in England to compete in the England Open Championships for the Disabled earlier this year. “I did not take any medals in Sheffield but taking part in international swimming competitions really helps. In Rio I improved my times a lot, especially in my favourite event, the backstroke.”

Emily is inspired by Natalie du Toit and Tadhg Slattery and is working to be as successful with her swimming as they are.

Lesley is 41 and started swimming competitively again three years ago. “I swam competitively at school and when I was at university in Johannesburg I swam with the Mandeville club for three or four years. In 1996 I went to Nationals.”

After that Leslie did not stop swimming, she just, as she puts it, “stopped swimming competitively”. That is until now.

“It is quite tough, training and working and I am not young like most of the other swimmers.” Leslie works at Toyota in Durban, where she lives.

“Despite the difficulty, it is going well, I have always been sporty and I think competiveness and ability play a bigger role than age.”

Leslie is an above the knee amputee. “When I was 16 I had an athletic accident and it developed into a type of cancer.”

“It is nice to be selected again and to be able to swim internationally. It also allows you to benchmark yourself. Participating in these events also make you realise that there are people who are more disabled than you are. When you look at their achievements it gives you perspective about yourself.

“I want to go to the Nationals in March next year and then the World Games in Durban. I would love to qualify for the Paralympics, but right now I am just concentrating on training and improving my time. I will take it from there.”

The 17-year old from Hope School, Sibusiso, has been making waves since he swam the 1.6km Halfway Telkom Midmar Mile race at Midmar Dam earlier this year. Sibusiso was featured in the March/April 2005 issue of Rolling Inspiration, after he was awarded the Courage Award at the Telkom Midmar Mile race. He also came first in the 100m breaststroke at Sheffield, making him the first black swimmer to obtain a golf medal in this event.

Both Sibusiso and Emily have just been selected for the SA Schools Team that is travelling to Melbourne, Australia in November this year to participate in the Pacific School Games.

Durban, South Africa: 17 April 2004, Disabled Sibusiso Mogale during the SA National Aquatic Championships held at Kings Park Aquatic Centre in Durban South Africa.

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