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SA Paralympian’s chilling vaccine warning

FILE - Anrune Weyers of South Africa running to victory in the women’s 400m T47 final at the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photo: Ali Haider / EPA

FILE - Anrune Weyers of South Africa running to victory in the women’s 400m T47 final at the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photo: Ali Haider / EPA

Published Aug 27, 2021


CAPE TOWN - THE golden girl of South Africa’s Tokyo Paralympic challenge, Anruné Weyers, has sent a chilling message to anti-vaxxers.

“I wouldn’t be in Tokyo had it not been for the vaccination,” she declared. “Get vaccinated, South Africans.”

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Weyers, who accepted the Johnson & Johnson vaccination as part of Team South Africa’s squad in May this year, tested positive for Covid-19 a month later, on June 13.

She insists had she not been vaccinated, there is no way she’d be competing in Tokyo in the next fortnight.

The 28-year-old Weyers is the favourite to win gold in the T47 class over 400m, having won silver at Rio in 2016.

Weyers, in an extensive interview with veteran South African sports journalist Gary Lemke, spoke of her struggles during Covid-19 and her fears of not being physically strong enough to get on a plane to compete in what is her last Paralympics.

ALSO READ: Stellenbosch sprinter Anruné Weyers chasing gold at her third Paralympics

“If I hadn’t had the vaccine, I wouldn’t be here. I was grateful that I had it… it gave me peace about surviving.

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“A month ago, I’d all but resigned myself to not coming to Tokyo. Just being here and healthy and not thinking about my lungs and my heart helps to ease things.

“If Covid hits close to home and someone who has had it has a name, be it a sister, brother, father, mother, husband, wife – hopefully the anti-vaxxers will reconsider. They must trust science.”

Weyers is key to South Africa having a golden touch in Tokyo, although the fanfare that historically aligned with Team South Africa’s Paralympic send-off was this week noticeably absent.

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Covid-19 and all its related restrictions have played a part, but this is also the most understated South African squad to compete at the Paralympics, where South Africa traditionally arrived with the poster athletes of the Games.

Think Oscar Pistorius in his athletic glory days, and think swimmer Natalie du Toit. They dominated the Games for a decade, and Team South Africa was always a talking point because of their presence.

This time Team South Africa will fly very much under the radar, but with the hope that their medal return will be decidedly more prominent than their squad announcement and departure for Tokyo.

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Team South Africa has sent just 34 athletes, who will compete in seven sports, which is 11 athletes fewer than the 2016 squad, which managed seven gold, six silver and four bronze medals. The squad size is also the smallest delegation since South Africa first competed at the Summer Paralympics in 1992.

South Africa managed just three medals at the Summer Olympics, with swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker winning gold and silver, and surfer Bianca Buitendag silver.

It was South Africa’s poorest medal return since the one medal in Beijing in 2008, and as has so often been the case with Team South Africa, the emphasis has shifted to the Paralympic squad to bring some cheer to the country’s sports supporters.

Lemke, who is the Chief Writer for Team South Africa, spent a month at the Summer Olympics, returned to South Africa for a week, and is back in Tokyo to provide reports and insights into Team South Africa’s Paralympic hopefuls.

Lemke is a “must follow” on Twitter. You’ll find him on @GaryLemke, and his storytelling of South Africa’s most inspiring athletes is a delight to read.

“I never take what I do for granted,” wrote Lemke. “Looking forward to doing justice to achievements of some extraordinary human beings.”

Many years ago, I did a stint as Communications Manager with Team South Africa and I got insight into the Paralympic world.

I was awed at what I experienced, and by the mental and physical strength of each athlete, whose challenges and achievements demand recognition and reward.

*Keohane is an award-winning sports journalist and a regular contributor to Independent Media Sport