Natalie du Toit
History was made in Beijing in 2008 when South Africa’s Natalie du Toit became the first amputee ever to qualify for the Olympics, where she finished 16th in the 10km open water swim. She is one of only two athletes to have competed in both the Olympic Games AND the Paralympic Games. In the Paralympics, she became the toast of South Africa after winning five gold medals.
In 2009, she kept up her remarkable performances and continued to dominate able-bodied and disabled swimming in South Africa. She also took part in the 10km FINA Women’s open water swim in Dubai against a field of able-bodied swimmers, breaking the two hour mark with a time of 1hr 57mins. In December she was presented with the order of ‘Ikhamanga In Gold’, by President Zuma, the highest honour any South African athlete can receive.
Natalie has been competing internationally in swimming since the age of 14. In February 2001 her left leg was amputated at the knee after she was hit by a car while riding her scooter back to school after swimming practice. Three months later, before she had started walking again, she was back in the pool with the goal of competing in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, which she achieved.
Swimming without the aid of a prosthetic limb, Natalie continued to set new benchmarks for swimmers with a disability by winning numerous events and setting ground-breaking South African records. For example her 400 metres freestyle S9 time is 17 seconds faster than her nearest rival.
Natalie du Toit has previously been nominated for the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability Award in 2004. She is also a member of the Laureus Friends & Ambassadors Programme.
Ernst van Dyk
For South Africa’s Ernst van Dyk, 2005 proved a year of immense achievement. He won the Boston Marathon wheelchair race for a remarkable fifth straight time, he won wheelchair marathons in New York, Paris, Seoul and Oita, and he showed his ability over shorter distances with wins at 400 metres and 800 metres in Atlanta’s Meet in the Heat.
The holder of three world records in the marathon category for wheelchairs, Van Dyk had a double amputation from the knee down after congenital birth defects. Despite his difficulties, his affinity for sport encouraged him to participate in athletics, gymnastics, swimming and table tennis and he represented South Africa in the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics in swimming and wheelchair events.
His track appearance in Barcelona turned out to be pivotal in his career. The cheers of the crowd as he circled the track excited him so much that it persuaded him to concentrate in the future solely on wheelchair handcycling.
Van Dyk has worked strenuously to increase community involvement in wheelchair handcycling. He organised an international event in Paarl, near Cape Town, in March 2005, he ensured that handcycling in the famous Argus Cycle Tour around the Cape Peninsula became an official category, and he further ensured that handcycling was integrated into all fun rides around the Western Cape area of South Africa.
Despite his wonderful career in sport, he says his biggest personal accomplishment was earning his college degree, making him the first ever disabled person to graduate with a degree in Sport Science from Stellenbosch University. Now he is full-time operations manager at Stellenbosch University’s Fitness Centre.
Article courtesy of www.laures.com