24 April 2020 – Former T37 Paralympic sprint champion, Fanie van der Merwe retired after the 2016 Rio Games and has been ploughing his love of the Lord and athletics into the next generation of Paralympic stars. 

Van der Merwe was part of the coaching staff for the first time at a World Junior Para athletics championships in August when Team South Africa won 22 medals in Nottwil, Switzerland.  

In his career, among many other accolades, van der Merwe broke the 100m and 200m World Record more than once, won three Paralympic gold medals and the 2014 Commonwealth Games 100m title. 

Now a coach and mentor at Inspired2Become, an NGO that he and his brother started in 2010, he does work with a number of different schools including Maties and Pioneer School for the blind in Worcester. 

He says the experience at Junior World Championships in Nottwil forced him to mature as a coach. “I felt a lot of responsibility. Two and a half months prior they announced the team but they couldn’t afford to send the team so we had to raise funds. It cost R35 000,00 per athlete and I had to help raise money for three. I was saying if we pull this off, it really is a miracle.” 

The challenges didn’t stop there for the 34 year old, he explains, “It was only me and ten athletes on the plane for the first leg of the trip to Dubai, then one guy loses his passport that was my start.” 

Once the meet got underway, van der Merwe, marveled at the athletes’ ability, “Just seeing the athletes’ maturity and their BMT was really something to see. I think we understood that we are a team and need to look out for one another. It really stretched me but I grew a lot. When you go with youngsters, you not just a coach.”  

Cerebral Palsy, which is the condition many in the T37 category have, affects a person’s balance; growth and co-ordination and causes spasticity, therefore training the bend in a 200 or 400 is more significant. 

Van der Merwe’s best coaching advice for CP’s in a 200m is, “get to know yourself. It’s a speed endurance event so pacing yourself is very important because of the spasticity. It takes a couple of years to really know how to run the bend. For a CP athlete, the most difficult challenge is keeping your rhythm and posture.”  

Of all the medals won, he says his best experience was the journey he travelled and one in particular stands out, “ In London, at the Paralympics, I was the first one out of the South African team to run a final in the 200m. I was World record holder and World number one. There was a lot of expectation and pressure. I was leading the whole way and then in the last 50, five guys passed me and I ended sixth. I was at the peak of my career and the 200 was my best race. I had a week to prepare for the 100m and in that time God spoke to me and said to me He loves me because I am His son not because I can win gold medals. That gave me confidence because I didn’t have to prove anything anymore.” Van der Merwe went onto win the T37 100m title that day.  

Having achieved many international medals in his career as an athlete, he hopes to reach all the schools in the Western Cape as a coach, “I would like to see some of the youngsters that I coach reach senior level and can become professional athletes. I want to instill a holistic view of coaching. Achievements are important but it’s much more important that after their career they will be men and women of character. It will be sad if a guy can only say they won a gold medal at the Paralympic Games.”

His best advice to young athletes is, “What you receive in life is a gift, you didn’t earn it. What you do have, is a responsibility that you have to own and steward. I would like young athletes to understand that their talent is an opportunity and they should be thankful for it.” 

The 8 time world championship medallist is not just involved in coaching but is serving the disabled community through the All Ability programme which trains people in South Africa and Africa. The three day course gives people practical experience on working with people with physical disabilities and gives people a biblical perspective in disability. 

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