SA triathlete gears up for African champs
By: NONHLANHLA NOZIZWE HLATSHWAYO
DURBAN - THE trials and tribulations that Mhlengi Gwala has faced in the past four years would have prompted many to throw in the towel, but for the Durban triathlete, quitting was not an option.
Gwala was viciously attacked while cycling in 2018, by three men who tried to cut off his legs with a chainsaw. One of his legs was severely injured.
At the time of the incident, the young athlete had a promising sporting career and had competed in two international triathlons.
After undergoing a gruelling operation to repair the damage to his leg, doctors were optimistic that Gwala would be able to return to competitive sport.
Gwala continued to compete in events, but said last April he developed an infection in his injured leg.
“I went to have it checked out, and I discovered that there was an infection and that my leg had to be amputated,” he said.
Despite the amputation, Gwala said he remained determined to compete, but this time as an amputee athlete in para triathlon events.
He said he was grateful to prosthetist Darryl Grobbelaar for his prosthetic leg.
“Being a triathlete is my life, and it is what I know. People know me for this, even my kids know that when I step outside the house, I am going for training,” he said.
Gwala said the amputation meant he had to adapt his training, but he had since accepted all that had happened to him, and was focused on moving on.
“I am still doing the same thing I did before I got my leg amputated.
“It is just minor changes in terms of mobility when I have to transition from swimming to cycling, because I move with crutches now, but the activities are pretty much the same, and it gets better with more practice,” he said.
He said he had competed for the first time after the amputation in the SA Para Triathlon Championships, where he placed first in his category, and which qualified him for the African Championships that will take place in June.
“It was awkward as it was my first time, but I did better than I expected.
“Even though I feel like I lacked strength, my knowledge of the sport did help me a lot in the competition,” he said.
Gwala said he was currently preparing for the African Championships in Egypt, and was looking for sponsors to support his trip.
“I picked up a few things that I need to improve on in the coming competition.
“My ultimate goal for the next competition is to have a finish time of 1 hour, 10 minutes,” he said.
“Because my sport involves swimming, cycling and running, I train around those activities either twice or three times a week,” he said.
Gwala said while he dreams of competing in the Commonwealth Games and the Paralympics, he had not been able to take part in competitions that would help him qualify to take part.
“I need to take part in other competitions so I can get points to qualify, so I have given it up for this year while I train for the next competition,” he said.
Gwala said he was grateful for the support he had received from his family and the people close to him.
“My children are my biggest supporters and inspiration. They know very well what I do, and understand my life as a triathlete, and that keeps me going,” he said.