By Robin Adams
CAPE TOWN - As the curtain came down on a memorable Paralympic Games in Tokyo on Sunday, the Western Cape’s golden girl, Anrune Weyers, is still in celebratory mode for her part in Mzansi’s impressive showing.
Right up until the last minute, the event looked like it wouldn’t happen due to worldwide coronavirus restrictions. But even without spectators in attendance, the sporting extravaganza still managed to capture the world’s imagination for two solid weeks.
Weyers and Team South Africa’s athletes, in particular, deserve a slow clap as they’ve given a nation in desperate need of a pick-me-up, plenty to cheer about.
Weyers was born with a congenital defect in her left arm. Her first place finish in the 400m T47, a race for those with upper limb deficiencies, capped an incredible personal journey and her first gold medal.
Speaking to IOL Sport from Tokyo, she admitted she was still on a high after clinching her first-ever Olympic gold medal. “My heart is full, and it is overflowing with emotions,” said the 28-year-old.
“The joy I experienced while I was racing came out of my eyes. I couldn’t stop crying.”
Weyers nearly didn’t make the trip to Japan. She tested positive for Covid-19 on June 13. Thankfully, she’d already received the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine in May.
“It was quite scary having the coronavirus,” she recalled. “There were three days when I struggled to breathe. And at that time, I realised what a blessing it is to be able to breathe and to move around freely.”
She recovered and then spent the bulk of August in a bio-secure environment with other Team SA athletes in Pretoria before jetting out to the Games.
Weyers described her experience at the Tokyo Paralympics as “amazing” and “an incredible place of connection”. She has made plenty of new friends from all around the world.
“People have been sharing their stories. In Team SA, it has been quite touching to hear people’s stories and celebrate one another.”
It’s also worth mentioning that Weyers is a big sushi fan. So naturally, she’s in her happy place, with Japan being the sushi capital of the world. It’s been party time for her adventurous palate.
“The sushi is the best! I love sushi back home too. And it’s delicious here. It is the talk of the town. You see a lot of athletes standing at the sushi area of the dining hall (in the athletes’ village), and they are just filling their plates with amazing sushi. Some of the dishes’ names I can’t even pronounce. But their sushi is definitely a winner.”
Weyers, the world-record holder in her 400m class, cruised to gold this week – a medal she says she will be keeping safe. It is a light-hearted reference to the theft of her medals (silver and bronze), which she clinched at the London Games nine years ago.
They were stolen from her luggage at George Airport, but eventually replaced by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
Despite only taking up athletics in 2010, Weyers is a seasoned competitor with several major competitions under her belt. “When I was young, I wrote on a piece of paper that I wanted to go to the London Paralympic Games. And in 2012, I was there!”
It is with that positive attitude that Weyers wants to encourage others in pursuit of their dreams. “Write down what your dreams are. It can be in sports. It can be in studies. It can be in anything.”
The athlete from Stellenbosch has a message to those of us who have been cheering her and the rest of the South African Paralympic team from our couches.
"Thank you for sharing this journey with us and supporting us.
“When you run and represent your country, you’re not just doing it for yourself. And I hope that the races, and our stories, can unite us and also inspire young kids, whether they are disabled or not, to dream and to believe that they can achieve anything.”