Lenny Bailey has Down syndrome and is training to participate in a local special needs athletics event in Durban, which serves as preparation for his next international event in Portugal later this year. Picture: Cindy Waxa/African News Agency (ANA)
Eerste River "Golden Boy” Leonard “Lenny" Bailey is hard at work preparing for his next international competition this year.

Lenny, 28, is a world record-holder in shot-put and champion, javelin and discus for events for athletes with Down syndrome. He has consistently won medals locally and internationally since 2010.

The Kleinvlei resident has been training with his coach, Mogamat Zain Lamara, at the Bellville Velodrome since January to refine his technique as he prepares for the World Athletics Games in Portugal in September. His mother, Angelina Bailey, said that this is no easy feat, as her husband David retired a few years ago and they depend on their pensions to fund Lenny’s athletics.

“Despite his many medals and championships, we have to do this on our own and depend on my husband’s pension. We travel to Bellville twice a week and for his one set of athletic shoes it cost us R1200.

"In September he will compete in South Africa’s Down Syndrome Games in Durban that we estimate will cost us R4000, but immediately afterwards he will leave with the team for Portugal,” said Bailey.

She said the athletics organisation was still waiting on word about funding from the National Lottery for the international event, but the daily costs were at times stretching the family as they try to keep their champion child involved in the sport he loves.

Besides the dietary needs and training costs Lenny needs, the family struggle to raise funds to travel and stay with him at local events across the country. She said they had thought of placing him in a specialist facility, as long as he would be allowed to participate in his sports.

Lenny has consistently been winning medals or breaking records over the past five years and has also received a medal for futsal, representing South Africa.

Coach Lamara said he came from mainstream athletics and had mainly worked with physically impaired athletes, and Lenny was the first mentally impaired athlete he had trained.

"There are so many athletes like Lenny that represent our country internationally successfully, but perhaps it’s because of their conditions that they are not supported as the abled-body athletes,” said Lamara.

Lenny has remained positive and said he could not wait to compete at the next event.

“I am my family’s golden boy. I do my best and when I come home they have a party for me and they clap hands for me. I love competitions and this year I also want to run track as I know I can also win medals there,” he said.

Anyone who wishes to contribute to the family can contact Lenny’s mother on 074 570 2370.