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Du Toit: Courage and Determination
Swimmer becomes the first disabled athlete to compete in the Olympics
Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)     Print Article 
Published 2008-08-21 17:53 (KST)   

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This week at Shunyi Lake in Beijing, South African swimmer Natalie du Toit finished 16th against the world's top 23 long distance swimmers in the inaugural 10km open water event. It is a noteworthy achievement for the 24 year-old, who had her leg amputated at the knee 7 years ago after a scooter accident.

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I watched Du Toit swimming in this grueling event. It was impressive to see her swimming right alongside the other Olympic 'fish' in this event. The 10km swim is not unlike a triathlon with many strong swimmers jostling for position. To do an event like this you need to be not only fit and strong, but have a particularly high pain and stress threshold.

Mindrot of Long Distance Swimming

The mental toughness required for a 2 hour swim and the claustrophobic hypoxia involved, is phenomenal. Kicks in the face are not uncommon, swimmers behind annoyingly touch your feet as you're breathlessly swimming through white water kicked up by the swimmer ahead. It's a tough event even for able bodied swimmers.

So when the camera panned over Du Toit, revealing the stump of her left leg, it is hard to do justice to the courage and determination that got her this far, and she held her own against best in the business.

Persistent Competitor

While du Toit had competed internationally since the age of 14 (in 1998 she competed at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lampur), instead of retiring from swimming after the accident, 3 months later she began preparing for the 2002 Commonwealth Games (in the disability events). Just one year later, competing against able-bodied swimmers at the All-Africa Games, Du Toit won the 800m freestyle.

At the Afro-Asian Games she came second in the same event, and third in the 400m freestyle. The difficultly for a swimmer with one leg in a pool based race includes starting on one leg, and kicking off the wall on one leg - which already places the disabled swimmer at a great disadvantage.

Pool Trouble

In order to win an event like the 800m requires 15 tumbleturns; 15 opportunities for able-bodied swimmers to gain increments of time. The fact that Du Toit was able to hold off the best swimmers in Africa (including swimmers from powerhouse South Africa) says a lot about her class, and courage.

But the Olympics is an even higher level, the here Du Toit's determination becomes evident. She narrowly missed qualifying for the 2004 Athens Olympics, and 4 years later, this week, made her appearance alongside the best long distance swimmers in the world. It was the first time this had happened in the history of the Olympic Games.

Her goal? A top 10 finish, though she said afterwards she had hoped to be in the top 5.

High Standards

Du Toit finished 16th, beating 7 other swimmers. She said afterwards: "For my first Olympic race I am a bit disappointed. I didn't have such a good race." After close to 2 hours and 10km in the water, she had finished 1 min 22.2 sec behind Russian gold medallist, Larisa Ilchenko.

On Natalie du Toit's website her enduring psychology is summarised in the first sentence: "It's important to swim your own race and not someone else's." That is exactly what she has done in order to be who she wants to be.


http://www.nataliedutoit.com/

For more on the writer, visit www.nickvanderleek.com
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nicolas van der Leek

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