South Africa’s double Paralympic champion Charl du Toit competes in the T37 class and followed up victory in Rio in 2016 with two more golds and a silver at the London 2017 World Championships.
Here he reveals his journey in to Para athletics.
“I come from an athletics mad family. My parents, Wessel and Elmarie, were both 400m and 800m athletes, so I think I have really good genes – I can’t complain about that.
My Dad has been an athletics coach for a long time – we celebrated his forty-year coaching anniversary last year. My Mum was a great athlete too; both of them competed provincially, and my Mum competed nationally as well. She was a junior Springbok in her school days.
My parents were absolutely brilliant in the way they brought me up – I never saw my disability as a problem. Obviously, there were some obstacles; operations that needed to be done – my Achilles tendon needed lengthening, and I always knew that there something wrong with me.
When I competed in cricket and tennis it felt like I had to work harder than the rest of the guys. I think my parents knew I had cerebral palsy, but we never gave it a name. I played first team hockey for five years and I was at an able-bodied school in Pretoria, where I was head boy. I was very active and enjoyed my sports – I was a sports fanatic.
My father coached me up until my matric year (the final year of high school), because I only started Para athletics when I was 17 years old – I only found out then that I was eligible to compete in disabled sports. For that year, my Dad was my coach.
I had competed against able-bodied guys in my youth, then suffered a groin injury and went to see a physio. She asked me why I didn’t compete in Para sports. “Why do I want to compete in disabled sports, because I don’t think there is anything wrong with me,” I replied.
But I took some tests and things started to make sense – why I can’t use my right hand properly, why I don’t have control over my right arm and why my calves differ; one is bigger than the other. I always knew that I walked with a limp – people asked me why and I could never explain.
Around that time, I was also starting to think about University. I knew that Suzanne Ferreira was coaching at Stellenbosch University, so it was a no brainer. When I received the opportunity to go study there and train under her wonderful guidance, I didn’t think twice; my Dad supported me in that decision as well.
I started with Para sports in March 2011 and had my first international competition in December that year at the IWAS World Championships. One year later, it was the Paralympics in London.
Originally I thought competing at London 2012 was a long shot. It was my first year out of school, and I had moved nearly 1,500 kilometres from Pretoria to Stellenbosch. It was always my goal to reach a Paralympics, but it only became a reality in March that year when I ran a great time in the 800m.
Just standing there in the London Olympic Stadium and realising my dream of representing South Africa on one of the biggest stages in the world – it was just amazing.”