Celebrating athletes with cerebral palsy

Athletes conquer condition to succeed

SA CHAMPIONS: Paralympians, from left, Ernst van Dyk, Jonathan Ntutu, Union Sekailwe, Charl Bouwer and Natalie du Toit celebrate during SA’s 2012 Paralympics held in London. Picture: VELI NHLAPO

The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games is set to open on Tuesday August 24 and will end on Sunday September 5, 2021 which was postponed from 2020 due to Covid.

The first Paralympic Games were hosted in Rome, Italy in 1960 and featured four hundred athletes from twenty-three countries vying for medals in eight sports. These included archery, athletics, dartchery, snooker, swimming, table tennis, wheelchair fencing and wheelchair basketball.

Dartchery was part of the Summer Paralympics until 1980 and is a combination of archery and darts. Bows and arrows are typically used with the target being a dartboard.

The Games have grown more than tenfold since then with an estimated 4,400 athletes competing for 539 medal events  such as athletics, archery, badminton, boccia, canoe, cycling, equestrian, football 5-a-side, goalball, judo, powerlifting, rowing, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo, triathlon, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis.

South Africa placed 18th at 2012 London Games with a total of 29 medals which consisted of 8 gold, 12 silver and 9 bronze medals while at the 2016 Rio Games, the South African Paralympic Team placed 22nd having won a total of 17 medals including 7 gold, 6 silver and 4 bronze medals.

Two of the gold medals won can be credited to track athlete, Charl du Toit, who represented South Africa in 2012 and 2016 in the Disability Class T37. Du Toit won both of his medals at the 2016 Rio Paralympics by winning the 100m and 400m events and set a world record for the latter.

Born on March 26, 1993 in Pretoria, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a result of complications at birth and one part of his body is not as well-developed as the rest. Besides having a right arm that is shorter than his left arm, he also experiences spasticity which affects his co-ordination when he is tired.

Despite his disability, du Toit attended a school for able-bodied scholars and post-matric, he attended Stellenbosch University and has studied towards a ‘master’s degree on the impact of physical education on the attitudes and motivational changes of learners with a physical impairment (Athlete, 06 Nov 2019).’

Another cerebral palsy overcomer is Liezel Gouws who was born in 1998 and only developed the condition after suffering from a stroke at the age of 5 years.

Gouws set a world record at the 800m T37 women’s event in 2015 at the National Championships in Johannesburg. She also competed at the 2016 Summer Paralympics and was awarded Para Sportswoman of the Year that same year.

Both Du Toit and Gouws tend to generally compete in the T37 category. The “T” refers to the sport, in this instance “track,” while the “37” denotes the contender’s capabilities.

So, T37 is the category allocated to athletes who have any of the cerebral palsy conditions namely hypertonia, ataxia or athetosis in one half of the body. The other side of the body could be barely affected but consistently shows good functionality in running. Asymmetry of the arm action is always evident while the trunk can sometimes be asymmetrical.

Gouws’ inspiring words reflect the true spirit of the Games:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams and live the life you’ve imagined. Never give up.” (Facebook profile, 06 Apr 2020)

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