"My hero is without a doubt Tadhg Slattery. He can't hear me talk, and I cannot use my hands but we talk and we understand each other. He motivates me greatly in a special way. I know what he is saying."
Sibusiso Mogale says this unassumingly with no thought to the fact that he himself is a hero. This young man, who was born without arms, finished the Halfway Telkom Midmar Mile race, in the disabled category that took place in February in KwaZulu-Natal.
A boarder at Hope School in Johannesburg, Sibusiso is originally from Mapumalanga. Sibusiso, now 17 years old and in grade 10, started swimming in 1999, but it was only in 2002 that he started to take his swimming seriously. "My first serious gala was in Germiston and I was swimming for Gauteng." He qualified for Gauteng in 2002 after Dea Slattery saw him swimming at Hope School and asked to train him. Although he has since competed in number of galas, Midmar was his first openwater event.
"It was not what I expected. Firstly, it was much bigger area of water than I thought it would be. But then, on the actual day I felt really good, and had a fantastic swim. It was a great feeling. I wanted to swim it over and over again."
Apart from motivating him to do more, competing in the Midmar has made him realise his love for open water swimming. “I have always loved swimming and swam a lot at school before Dea started coaching me, but I never thought I would move from the pool to open water. I would love to do more of these events, and you will definitely see me at Midmar next year."
Apart from swimming this articulate young man is keen to finish school and attend college or university. "Ultimately I would like to start my own business. I love drawing, creating cartoons or clothing. Anything I can design on my own."
And will he carry on swimming after school? "I will definitely carry on with my swimming."
A hero of a different kind at the Midmar has to be Greg Price, manager of the swimming facility at Mandeville. He swam 58.2 kms at this year’s Midmar to raise funds for Mandeville and disabled swimming.
Greg’s Midmar 58.2 kms has raised R50 000 so far and he is hoping that once all the funds are collected the final tally will be closer to R70 000.
“We have an indoor 25m heated pool at the club and run coaching programmes for both able bodied and disabled swimmers. The funds are to assist us with the maintenance of the facilities as well as to help disabled swimmers. As you can imagine just the electricity cost to keep the pool heated is phenomenal. So we are constantly looking for ways to raise funds.”
Greg is also working on raising money to take a team of seven young, but very promising disabled swimmers to Sheffield in England in May this year to compete in the England Open Championships for the disabled. Included in this group is Sibusiso.
“The senior swimmer on the tour will be Tadhg, who will act as a mentor and leader for these young swimmers. All the others are young, unexposed but very talented. The idea is to expose them to international swimming, the culture, the atmosphere and to motivate them for greater things. I strongly believe that out of this group we will see at least two participating in the next Paralympics.”
Greg is frustrated by the lack of sponsorship for his group though. “While the Midmar has helped to publicise these swimmers and what they are capable of, sponsorship is still to come. Unfortunately a gap seems to exist, in terms of funding, for swimmers at the level before the “Natalie du Toit” level,” he says.
What is promising is Wayne Ridden and the Midmar Miles’ commitment to the disabled. Wayne, the convenor of the Midmar Mile, is looking to build on what Greg has started and look for ways in which a trust fund can be set up for disabled swimmers using funds raised through events such as Greg’s 58.2 kms at Midmar.
In fact, for next year, Tadhg Slattery is looking to complete all eight miles, something Wayne supports and encourages. “When I took over the Midmar Mile I became aware of the number of disabled swimmers, especially those who travelled from Gauteng. With the support of Dea we have been able to develop the disabled mile into three categories: visually impaired, mentally impaired and physically impaired. We will be looking to improve on our category definitions each year.”
Wayne is full of admiration for the disabled swimmers. “The courage shown by these swimmers can only be admired. A few years ago the water level was quite low, so we asked the disabled swimmers if they wanted to finish where the water ended as it was quite a haul up to the traditional line. They all refused and finished with everyone else.
“Able bodied swimmers should learn from these swimmers and realise what it takes for them to get down to the water and then have their wheelchair at the finish line.”
Encouraging is that both Wayne and Greg have seen the number of disabled swimmers increase over the past few years. “There are a number of new and young faces. The Midmar is very well supported, in particular by the Mandeville club,” says Wayne.