Historical Social change Motivated by Sports


Natalie du Toit

Natalie du Toit is a classic example of bouncing back from setbacks. She started swimming from a very young age and by the time she was fourteen she was already competing internationally. Unfortunately, her journey to success was delayed by a horrific accident when she was seventeen. Only delayed though.

Readmikenow describes the accident that led to Du Toit losing her leg in his article “Natalie Du Toit: First Disabled Athlete to Swim in the Olympics”. According to Readmikenows’ article, Natalie du Toit was leaving the Newlands municipal swimming pool after she had spent the morning training there [9]. She was on her scooter heading to school when a vehicle came out of a car park and quickly came down the road and collided against her, her leg crumbled after the impact.  Five days later the physicians told Natalie du Toit and her parents that her leg would have to be amputated.

This did not despair Du Toit from competing. The following year she competed in the 2001 Manchester Commonwealth games. Broke 2 records at that event (the 100 meters freestyle and the multi-disability 50-meter freestyle). Natalie went on to qualify for the 800 meters able-bodied freestyle final, making her the first disabled athlete to qualify for the final of an able-bodied event [9]. She competed in the 2003 All Africa Games and won gold in the 800 meters freestyle. She also competed in the Afro-Asian Games that same year against able-bodied swimmers and won a silver medal in the 800 freestyle and a bronze medal in the 400 meters freestyle.

Natalie du Toit was nicknamed Noodle and she became a specialist of open water swimming events. She won 5 Paralympic championship titles at the Paralympic Games in 2004. In 2006 Du Toit participated in the Commonwealth Games and won two gold medals. She also participated in the 2012 London Paralympic Games were she won three gold medals and a silver medal. She went on to retire after the 2012 London Paralympic Games [9]. Natalie du Toit is motivation to other south South African athletes, disabled or not. She also does motivational speaking. 

Oscar Pistorius

Another athlete who promoted inclusion for disabled sportsman was Oscar Pistorius.

If you Googled Oscar Pistorius now you will probably get mixed emotions if not anger or disgust. He was arrested for murdering his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day in 2013 and for that I was hesitant about including him on this list. Before that, however, Oscar Pistorius was a sprint runner who had both his legs amputated as an infant.  Adding him to this list does not exonerate him in any way from his crimes but it serves to inform the reader about his achievements as a disabled athlete.

Popularly known internationally as the “Blade Runner” then, Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius was born without a fibula in either of his legs and his parents made the difficult decision to have his legs amputated below the knees just before his first birthday [10], and he started using prostatic legs.

His handicap hardly slowed his involvement in sports, he spanned from cricket to wrestling to boxing and at 16 he started running track. In January 2004, he competed in his 1st 100-meter race; nearly eight months later Pistorius, wearing a pair of flex-foot cheetahs (a lightweight carbon fiber foot) captured the gold medal in the 200-meter race at the 2004 Athens Paralympics.

His artificial legs had him banned by the International Association of Athletic Foundation Association (IAAF) in 2007. The IAAF stated that his legs gave him an unfair advantage over able-bodied athletes [10].  Pistorius appealed the ruling and in May 2008 the court of arbitration for sports overturned the IAAF decision [10]. He continued competing and won 3 gold medals at the 2011 IPC athletics world championships. Two more titles followed, in the 400-meter and 100-meter events at the BT Paralympics world cup [10].

In 2012 Pistorius qualified for the 400-meter race at the London Olympics becoming the first amputee athlete to compete in track events at the Olympics. To mark the occasion, Pistorius flew out his 89-year-old grandmother to watch him race [10].  He was eliminated at the semifinal round.

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Thando W. Dlamini, BA

Sport Development and Exercise Science Practitioner

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1 Response

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