Wayde van Niekerk. Photo: Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
Wayde van Niekerk. Photo: Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

It is an honour to be in my position, and I do not take it lightly

By Opinion Time of article published Oct 6, 2020

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by Wayde van Niekerk

As someone who is fortunate enough to represent their country as a sprinter, I am constantly humbled by the opportunities I have been given to inspire positive change in the lives of my fellow South Africans.

My success at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where I was able to win a gold medal for South Africa and break a world record in the 400 metres opened so many doors for me. But most importantly, the result showed that an ordinary South African can achieve success at the highest level.

We are world class. Despite the challenges that many of us face, we have the strength of character to overcome them, and the dedication to make the most of our talent, skill and abilities. If I was able to make it out of a challenging start (bullying, lack of self-confidence, modest beginnings) and still be able to perform on the world stage, then each of us has the potential to achieve excellence despite our setbacks.

Only recently, I was able to resume my competitive schedule at a race in Switzerland, where I was able to secure a win. This moment played an important part in my recovery, dedication and mental commitment to push forward. I was really encouraged by my performance, as it not only sets an example for preparations towards the 2021 Tokyo Olympics but it also gives me confidence and reassurance after my injury and other setbacks over the past few years.

I am conscious of the great love that I have been shown by South Africans from all walks of life during my rehab and throughout my career. This incredible support encourages me to perform at my best – just as much as I may inspire others with my running.

I also feel a certain responsibility to perform for the people of my country. It is an honour to be in my position, and I do not take it lightly. My role as a national ambassador comes with a responsibility to do my best, to dedicate myself to my sport and to be a role model for my fans. This is what has kept me motivated the past few months. However, I also believe that as much as we have to be strong and be a fitting example for those around us, we also have a responsibility to ourselves. The talents we are born with hold so much potential, and it is one of our tasks to make the most of our abilities – for ourselves, and also for those around us.

Yes, the odds will often be stacked against us – an opportunity lost, a disappointment when you have worked so hard to get to a certain point, discouragement, constant challenge or even a global pandemic.

No matter our circumstances, there will always be people who offer hope, encouragement and positive inspiration. These are the ones who set the highest standards for themselves and for others. They are steadfast in what they want to achieve and they are brave enough to push boundaries. These people are the ones who see the world differently, always looking for the optimistic view to life.

But when we all aim for the highest achievement, and we do it together, we build up a kind of momentum that becomes irresistible. We need each other’s support, and when we have it, we succeed together.

I believe all my successes, including my Olympic gold medal victory from lane 8 in Rio, were achieved as part of a collective, thanks to the people in my life. I was able to succeed thanks to the support of my family, my team and my country – all of whom wanted only the very best outcome.

In the same way, I want only the best for my fellow South Africans. This is why I have aligned myself with a social media campaign such as #Lane8, which aims to inspire South Africans to strive for greatness and to overcome doubt and hardship no matter their challenge or starting point in life.

Many of us start our race of life from the outside lane, with some sort of disadvantage. However, that doesn’t disqualify us from competing successfully. We can still forge ahead and win. As I prepare for the Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for next year, I am inspired by the millions of South Africans who overcome disadvantages every day, and succeed through self-belief, dedication and supporting each other.

You inspire me to be great, and I hope that I can do the same for you. Let’s succeed together.

* Wayde van Niekerk is a South African track and field sprinter who competes in the 200 and 400 metres.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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