Ndlovu continues to triumph over adversity

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iol spt dec13 Sizwe Ndlovu

REUTERS

Sizwe Ndlovu achieved what seemed the impossible when he won a gold medal at last years London Olympic Games.

Johannesburg – Fifteen years after taking up rowing, South Africa's Sizwe Ndlovu achieved what seemed the impossible when he won a gold medal at last year’s London Olympic Games.

He was part of the men’s lightweight fours who came from behind to win the gold medal in emphatic style.

It had been an arduous journey for Ndlovu, who took his first paddle strokes in 1997 under the inspirational guidance of Mondeor High School headmaster, Tom Price.

Rowing had given Ndlovu two father figures in Price and current South African coach Roger Barrow, the 33-year-old’s greatest mentors.

While winning gold had not delivered financial security for any of the foursome, Barrow had been keeping them afloat by finding solutions despite the lack of resources.

The coach has instilled a can-do attitude in the team as encouraged his rowers to focus on rowing and leave the rest up to him.

“He had told us before that he wanted us to work on moving our boat faster while he will sort out the things we can’t control,” Ndlovu said at the high-altitude training camp in Lesotho last weekend.

“It is great having a good leader like that (Barrow) in our team. It makes life easier for us to focus on training and making sure our boat moves faster than the others.

“It is an attitude we’ve adopted over the last four years. As long as I’ve been rowing, we’ve had financial struggles.”

Ndlovu said Barrow had taught the team not to wallow in self pity and rather to do something positive to change the situation.

It is something Ndlovu had taken to heart and Barrow’s influence inspired him to aim for more rowing glory.

“You can either sit at home, whine and complain and do nothing about it and go nowhere or you can get up and be doing something about it.

“What I’ve learned from Roger, besides coaching-wise, is in life – a value that I use every day – to accept the situation as it is and find the solution. There is always a solution for Roger.”

Ndlovu said while he had been struggling financially, Barrow had never been short of good advice to help him look past the difficult situation.

The lightweight men have already set their sights on winning a title at the world rowing championships.

“It’s been tough because there are only a few lightweight competitions and there are only two events for the fours and doubles.

“At the moment we have three good lightweights who are seniors and we have some tough competitions.

“None of us have won at the world championships since we’ve been rowing, so that is a goal for us, whether it is in the fours or the doubles.”

Ndlovu was born on September 24, 1980 in Baragwanath into a polygamist family and was raised by his grandparents in Volksrust, Mpumalanga because his mother, a domestic worker in Johannesburg, was unable to take care of him.

He later moved to his grandparents on his father’s side, in Newcastle, where he had to walk more than 20km to school every day.

Ndlovu finally moved back to his mother in Johannesburg in 1995 and was introduced to rowing two years – a path which would lead towards Olympic glory.

To help his mother pay his school fees at Mondeor High School, he woke up every morning at 3.30am to deliver newspapers to more than 40 houses in the south of Johannesburg.

Price saw the potential of the young man and encouraged him to take up rowing. They formed a relationship which would last until Price died in 2006.

“When I started rowing, I had to stop delivering newspapers and Mr Price helped me. I didn’t have to pay school fees,” Ndlovu said.

“I met him when I started rowing and he was like my father. After I met him, things got a lot easier for me.

“He supported me right through. He picked me up in the morning at 5 o’clock and we would train until seven on the ergo rowing machine.”

In the afternoons, the rowers would go to Wemmer Pan for training sessions on the boats where days would be allocated to different age groups.

Ndlovu, however, participated in each and every training session, helping him develop into one of the top rowers in the country.

“I was lucky in a way. I was able to train every day even if it wasn’t my day to train.

“It built me up and that is what encouraged me. I realised I couldn't stop. When Mr Price passed away in 2006, I felt I could not give up, even when it was difficult for me, because he’d done so much to help me to this stage.”

In 2002, as part of a lightweight fours crew, he finished second at the World Under-23 Regatta in Genoa, Italy.

“That is the time I said I want to go to the Olympics and I realised this is my dream and I will get there,” he said.

After juggling studies, work and rowing, he eventually dropped out of his University of Johannesburg course to focus on his passion.

In 2009, Barrow arranged financial support for Ndlovu to ensure he was fully committed to rowing as the team went in search of Olympic qualification over the next two years.

“It made my life a lot easier because I was able to focus on just one thing. It gave me time to recover and get ready for the next session.

“I was at ease with the bills getting paid and I didn’t have to worry about anything except for making sure the boat is going fast.”

The Olympic Games was a bittersweet experience for Ndlovu as he could not share his success with Price, who had an indelible influence on his life.

His mother, who battled breast cancer for ten years, passed away in 2008, and his father had died the year before.

While he could not share the Olympic gold medal with those closest to him, he was comforted by the fact he did not give up on his dream which would have made them proud. – Sapa


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