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With months of gruelling preparation and training behind them and dreams of Paralympic gold medal glory ahead, four KZN hopefuls talk to Kamcilla Pillay about their expectations, concerns and sources of inspiration
Anthony Dawson, 17
Anthony suffers from a neurological disorder known as spastic right hemiplegia, which is a form of cerebral palsy.
The right side of his body is affected and the disorder creates and leaves the muscles in a constant state of spasm, so the muscle patterns do not work normally.
“My disability has never stopped me from anything that I have wanted to do. My mum [Jacqui] has been my greatest supporter and has pushed me to achieve [what I want].
“When I was diagnosed, my parents were told I would probably never walk, definitely never talk nor live a normal functioning life.
“After years of therapies, here I am today: I went to a mainstream school and do all the things my peers do. I actually couldn’t imagine my life without the disability! I don’t know any different,” said Anthony who is already in London for the event.
He explained that dressage was like ballet on horseback.
“We are required to perform a set pattern of movements where the judges want to see the horse dance! Each sequence is marked out of 10 for each of these movements.
“The horse and rider combination with the highest number of marks wins.”
But for the disability, Anthony says he probably would not have become involved with horses. “Mum had just heard that riding was a good form of therapy for people with disabilities and so she put me on a horse before I could even walk.
“The rest is history,” says Anthony, who has participated in two international competitions as part of Team SA (The Moorsele CPEDI3* in Belgium and Hartpury’s International Festival of Dressage in Gloucestershire, UK).
“There is more in the tank from both Roffelaar (his horse) and I which we have been saving for the Games. We’re keeping everything crossed and thinking positive.
“The Games is really the pinnacle of any athlete’s career, just being there is an achievement in itself. We are aiming to qualify for the finals, but who knows what can happen? It all depends on the day!”
Sandra Khumalo, 35
1 x AS (1 000m arms and shoulders)
Khumalo said the past two months had been “hectic”, but she was excited and nervous about the competition.
“We’ve been mixing it up with long, steady sessions and short intense ones to build up speed,” she said.
Khumalo said she was visualising herself on the podium, to get through the tension and rigorous training. “It’s been lots of hard work, but I’m ready,” said the mother of two.
A car accident six years ago left Khumalo paralysed from the waist down, and the keen gym-goer initially struggled with getting around in a wheelchair.
But a yearning to get her independence back pushed her into competitive rowing. Her prowess has come on strongly and she qualified for the Paralympic Games after winning silver at the final Paralympic qualification regatta in Belgrade, Serbia, this month.
“People often ask where I draw my inspiration from: it’s my disability. God does not give you anything you cannot handle,” said Khumalo, who works in reservations at uMhlanga’s Protea Hotel.
“There’s nothing you can’t achieve, if you put in hard work and persevere. Think beyond obstacles. That would be my advice to budding rowers.”
She said her 11-year-old daughter was proud and excited about her participation. “She used to get upset when I used to go away to train, but now she understands.”
Her husband and two daughters will be accompanying her to London.
Siphamandla Gumbi, 35
Gumbi began his career as a wheelchair basketball player in his first year of university and in 2001 began representing the country in that sporting code.
“Before that I had tried shotput, discus and 100m and 200m field and track events, but I fell in love with basketball – after that I didn’t want to do anything else,” he said.
It was the intensity of the game that hooked him.
“In life, you learn that it is easier to work towards a common goal as a unit, as opposed to fighting a whole battle by yourself.”
He represented SA at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing and is looking forward to doing it again.
“It’s always an honour to represent your country,” said Gumbi, who in 1986 went under the knife to remove an abscess on his spine and left the theatre unable to use his legs.
“But I don’t see that as a disability: I know that I can do anything. The sky’s the limit.”
Justin Govender, 34
from Newlands West
Before Govender lost the use of his limbs at the age of 17 in a shooting accident, he was an avid footballer.
The tragic incident forced him to exchange one code for another, but it has now become his passion.
“I’ve been on the SA national team for 10 years, and I still get excited before each game,” he said.
Govender said a friend had asked him to begin playing.
“Even though he introduced me to it, he ended up leaving while I stayed.”
Govender was part of the team that won the 2006 World Championships in Amsterdam and also represented SA at the Beijing 2008 Paralympics.
“Even though I’m mentally and physically ready, I’m feeling a little tired so I need to rest before we compete,” he said.
“It’s been four years of preparation.”
He said he hoped SA would emerge as something of a “dark horse”, and would do the country proud.
“Basketball is a lot like life: it has its ups and downs and it gets difficult to persevere sometimes, but you can’t ever give up.”