London - It was 11 years and seven months ago that Natalie du Toit lost her leg in a motor accident and, if the course of her life had sent her on a different path, she would not have become SA’s most successful Paralympian.
Du Toit won a tight 100m butterfly in one minute and 9.30 seconds to win her 12th medal and SA’s first of the 14th Paralympic Games. It is Du Toit’s third and final Games, and the woman who has become a symbol for disabled swimmers stood tall on Thursday night.
It was a strong swim from Du Toit, who had said she didn’t feel quite in the swing of things as she started her final Paralympics with the country’s first medal of what is hoped to be a haul of about 40. She looked a little off in the morning heats, but said she would get stronger.
“Coming back from seeing the Olympics and everyone has been waiting and waiting and waiting, and finally the first day came and I don’t think I’m quite ready for it yet,” said Du Toit, whose 12 medals, 11 of them gold, equals the haul of Fanie Lombaard.
Asked about her emotions going into her final competition as an athlete, Du Toit looked a little conflicted.
“I must admit, with everything I have gone through, I’m quite relieved. To be able to walk away and know that I have achieved everything I want to achieve, and that there is nothing else I could have done. I’m more relieved than anything else,” she said.
“That’s the first race over. I’m not really happy with the time, but it’s great to have that one over. It’s the last time I’ll ever swim 100m butterfly.”
She has taken the time to see the sights of London since she arrived.
“It’s been great. I only got here a couple of days ago. I was able to train outside the village for a bit, so that’s been great. I got to see some of the sights, and now I’ve come out here and it took a bit of pressure off the racing and allowed me to have fun. That was my aim coming into this competition – just to go out and really have fun, and enjoy what you are doing.”
Du Toit and Oscar Pistorius are the only leg amputee athletes to take part in both the Olympics and Paralympics.
Du Toit was the star athlete at the Athens Games, where she first came to terms with being a disabled athlete.
She and Pistorius shared top billing in Beijing, where the man from Pretoria wowed packed crowds at the Bird Nest while Du Toit had them in raptures in the Watercube.
In London, though, Pistorius is king.
He has made it into the latest edition of Beano, one of the oldest children’s comics. He features in a story with Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, his dog.
He was given the name “Victorius” in the comic, and the story shows how his blades work. “It was an easy decision to choose Oscar to appear as our cover star because, like Dennis, Oscar is an inspiration to our readers by making the most of every opportunity and by ignoring those who say: ‘You can’t do that’,” said Mike Stirling, editor of Beano.