Photo by Francois-Esterhuizen
Javelin thrower Reinhardt Hamman won a gold medal for South Africa at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio and there is a good chance of him breaking the world record when he competes in the Nedbank National Championships for the Physically Disabled in Port Elizabeth from the 31st March to the 4th April.
“My Rio medal was 14 years of hard work, dedication and never giving up on a dream, which includes breaking the world record. My personal best in my class is 50.96m, which is 41cm short of the world record, so let’s see what I can do in PE,” says 27-year-old Hamman who lives in the Strand near Cape Town and trains at Stellenbosch University six days a week.
Several Paralympic stars will feature amongst the 1300 physically disabled South African and southern African athletes competing in this year’s national championships, which include seven sporting codes: athletics, powerlifting, judo, para-cycling, goal ball, boccia and Cerebral Palsy football, known as CP football.
The athletes compete in specific classes according to the severity of their disability. For example, T42 is a classification for athletes with above-the-knee amputations or comparable disabilities.
Some of the 2016 Rio Paralympic stars set to delight the Port Elizabeth crowd include double-leg amputee runner Ntando Mahlangu (15) who shined at last year’s Nedbank National Championships in Bloemfontein and went on to become a sporting superstar in Rio when he secured a silver medal in the 200m T42 category.
“These national championships are extremely important because athletes qualify here for the World Championships in London in 2017 and the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020,” explains Hamman who qualified for the Rio Paralympic Games through the Nedbank National Championships in Bloemfontein last year.
He has competed in Port Elizabeth before, in the 2009 nationals: “The wind can be a bit of a challenge in PE but javelin throwers have to think on their feet and calculate the different angles for the javelin to fly in strong winds; it’s a very technical sport,” he explains.
In addition to being a professional athlete, he manages the media, social media and website for the South African Sport Association for the Physically Disabled (SASAPD). “It is my way of giving back to the sport,” he says. “There is not enough focus on sport for the disabled in South Africa, and I want to contribute to changing this as it directly influences audience interest and sponsorships.”
Nedbank recognised the lack of support for these highly deserving athletes and took the lead in 1992 when the bank started sponsoring the National Championships for the Physically Disabled, which it has done for the past 26 years, explains Nedbank Lifestyle Properties Sponsorship Manager, Becky Penumlungu, who is the spokesperson for the championships.
“This sponsorship reflects Nedbank’s brand essence ‘See Money Differently’, which is about using our financial expertise to do good and secure positive outcomes for all the communities we serve. Our staff from the greater Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage region will be in attendance throughout the championships, and will assist with the registration, logistics and medal handovers.”
Nedbank is also donating R50 000 to the Cheshire Home for the disabled in Cleary Park, Port Elizabeth, to assist with their programmes, which are critical for disabled people.
Penumlungu says they rotate the championships between different South African cities where they partner with the local municipality and the regional Department of Sport and Recreation.
“The Mayor of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality, Athol Trollip, has been extremely helpful in assisting us with locating suitable venues and commissioning changes to the main stadium for the championships – the Westbourne Oval – so that it complies with the international rules to ensure all the records are official.”
“It is so important to have an internationally recognised national championship each year as the results are submitted to the international ranking list, from which the international Paralympics committee makes their selection as to who qualifies to compete at Paralympics level,” says acting President of the SASAPD, Moekie Grobbelaar, a Paralympic power lifter until her retirement from sport seven years ago in 2008, at the age of 48.
“SASAPD’s aim is to give all the athletes the opportunity to improve and to excel and achieve national and world records.”
Grobbelaar participated in competitive sport from the age of 12 when she was a learner at the Elizabeth Conradie School for the disabled in Kimberley. She has competed for South Africa as a swimmer, track athlete, dancer and power lifter.
She won a bronze at the Sydney Paralympics in 2000 – the first time that power lifting became a Paralympic sport for women; and she came fifth in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
All athletes well know what it feels like to have a successful and a disappointing day, the latter happened to Grobbelaar at the 2008 Paralympics. “I was naturally going for gold and you train extremely hard for that one day to show the world that you are the best. That day simply did not work out for me, and it was extremely disappointing.
“It took several days to start getting over it as it is not easy for any human being to accept the negative, but you have to work through it and you cannot dwell on it for too long as the negativity does not serve you.
You have to come back and start working on the aspects of your performance that you can improve.”
Throughout her sporting career, Grobbelaar had to work on her nerves: “I was always a very nervous athlete and I went to a psychiatrist who taught me a very valuable technique for handling high-level competition.
“In the Olympic call room where you wait to be called to perform, they screen the performance as each athlete competes. If you watch your competition you can easily start doubting yourself, and so I was taught to rather stare at the wall and not look at the TV at all. This way I trained myself to deeply concentrate on nothing but my coach’s voice taking me through my paces.”
At the upcoming national championships, Grobbelaar will be at the organising helm, but she will know exactly how the athletes are feeling when Penumlungu declares the championships open at the Feather Market Hall in Port Elizabeth on the 31st March.