“They said I’d never be able to walk.”

If Sa­man­tha Stander, 22, had be­lieved what oth­ers had told her, she might never have walked – let alone run.

Glamour (South Africa) - - Front Page -

By Sa­man­tha Stander

Cov­ered in sweat and mud, my legs burn­ing with ef­fort and the noise of the crowd ring­ing in my ears, I could hardly be­lieve it. Could this re­ally be me – the girl who’d been told she’d never be able to walk – mak­ing it to the fin­ish line of the epic Grind Ob­sta­cle Course Race?

“It would be no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that pain has been my life­time com­pan­ion. At birth, I was di­ag­nosed with De­vel­op­men­tal Dys­pla­sia of the Hip (DDH), a con­di­tion that meant that my hip joints would never de­velop prop­erly. The doc­tors pre­dicted that I would never be able to walk.

“I spent the first 15 months of my life in an un­com­fort­able cast, which was sup­posed to hold my hips in their cor­rect po­si­tion, but it seemed to have no ef­fect. Then, on 23 De­cem­ber 1994, at 16 months, I took my first steps – much to my mother’s sur­prise. She says she had no idea how it hap­pened, but those steps were the best early Christ­mas gift she could’ve re­ceived.

“Grow­ing up with a dis­abil­ity meant be­com­ing used to con­stant pain. It also meant that I walked dif­fer­ently, couldn’t run around at breaks, and wasn’t able to play the usual school games. As a re­sult, my child­hood was filled with bul­ly­ing, from chil­dren mak­ing fun of me to com­plain­ing that I took up too much space as I had to sit with my legs straight out on the floor, rather than crossed, dur­ing sto­ry­time.

“Luck­ily, my par­ents Bev­er­ley and Wes­sel stood up for me and spoke to

the teach­ers and prin­ci­pal. My small group of sup­port­ive friends made me feel ac­cepted, and I de­voted my­self to cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties, like art, de­bat­ing, and writ­ing po­etry and short sto­ries – all won­der­ful ways to ex­press my­self and es­cape the lim­i­ta­tions I felt.

“I was 15 when I de­cided I wasn’t go­ing to let other peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes limit me. I ap­plied to be on the school pa­per, got in­volved in first aid and, de­spite my in­abil­ity to run, went to hockey tri­als. To ev­ery­one’s sur­prise, I was quite good, and I was picked as goal­keeper for the third team. My team­mates were scep­ti­cal at first, but my en­thu­si­asm and skill made them warm up to me.

“In 2012, I left my home­town of Cradock in the East­ern Cape to study medicine at Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity. Com­ing from a small town with just a few fast-food restau­rants, I was over­whelmed by the choices! I loved Mcdon­ald’s so much that I ate two meals at a time and by the end of first year, I’d gained 30kg. Then, one day, I looked in the mir­ror and de­cided that I had to do some­thing about my body!

“I signed up for the gym, and the staff no­ticed that I was strug­gling with the equip­ment and of­fered to help, but I as­sured them that I knew my lim­its. If things be­came too much, I would stop.

“De­spite my bravado, though, it was in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult, and the pain was so in­tense that I felt as if I was go­ing to die. But there was no turn­ing back. I had to ex­er­cise for my phys­i­cal and emo­tional well­be­ing, and how­ever hard it was, I knew that it would get bet­ter.

“I’d been at gym for four months when I saw a flyer in the locker room for a 5km race in Cape Town. I wanted to put more ef­fort into my fit­ness, as I’d hardly done any walk­ing or run­ning and I had never for­got­ten the feel­ing of hav­ing to sit out dur­ing PE at school.

“My friend Natasha Fred­er­icks and I had set a 2015 goal to im­prove our fit­ness, and I showed her the flyer and asked her to tackle the race with me. At first, she was scep­ti­cal, and I un­der­stood why: run­ning has al­ways been a strug­gle for me. But, be­ing sup­port­ive, she agreed, even though we knew that we would prob­a­bly be slow.

“The race day dawned and Natasha and I felt ner­vous, but very ex­cited. We were new to the world of run­ning and chose to look at the race as an ad­ven­ture. But it was even harder than I’d ex­pected, and the only thing that got me through was en­cour­age­ment from Natasha and the race marshals.

“When it was all over, I limped to the car and col­lapsed in the seat, hardly able to even lift my hands. I’d never been so ex­hausted. But I was also hooked on the adren­a­line and en­dor­phins.

“Two weeks later, I took on the 5km Pick n Pay Women’s Walk, and a few months af­ter that, I signed up for the 10km trail run at Del­heim Wine Es­tate with my friends Natasha and Kelly Daniels, who al­ways en­cour­aged me and made sure that I never ran alone.

“I didn’t al­ways know what I was let­ting my­self in for, but I wanted to feel good about my­self, and I was de­ter­mined to keep chal­leng­ing my body. It wasn’t al­ways easy: 6km into the Del­heim trail, I twisted my an­kle, and the throb­bing pain com­bined with anger and dis­ap­point­ment in my­self. But I was lucky that in ad­di­tion to be­ing an awe­some cheer­leader and fel­low run­ner, Natasha is a phys­io­ther­apy stu­dent. She used my shoelaces to sta­bilise my foot, and she and Kelly helped me cross the fin­ish­ing line.

“Run­ning be­came my great love and the weight started fall­ing off, too. It was so great to be able to wear smaller sizes, go­ing from an XXXL tights to a large.

“My 2016 fit­ness goal was to do an ob­sta­cle course race, and at the end of Fe­bru­ary, I con­tacted Mat Bar­lett, the founder of the Grind Ob­sta­cle Course Race. I was wor­ried that my DDH would prevent me from com­pet­ing, but Mat was very sup­port­ive, and he in­tro­duced me on the Grind’s Facebook page as their first brand am­bas­sador, which led to an of­fer of help from the ob­sta­cle course rac­ing ath­lete Do­minique D’oliveira. Over the next month, she taught me ways to tackle the ob­sta­cles and how to look at things from a new per­spec­tive. I’d want to give up, but she made me stronger and gave me faith.

“When April ar­rived, I was so anx­ious about the race that I burst into tears 10 min­utes be­fore the start. I hadn’t an­tic­i­pated how hard it would be: we had to climb over con­tain­ers and tubes, and I strug­gled to pull my­self up and climb down. When I got to the wa­ter ob­sta­cles, I slipped on the lily pads and wanted to give up, but some­thing in­side me said ‘Not to­day you won’t!’, and a surge of adren­a­line rushed through my body. I was part of Team Lim­it­less, which con­sisted of fa­mous ob­sta­cle course ath­letes, my friends, sis­ter and dis­abled ath­letes, and they en­cour­aged me at every ob­sta­cle.

“When I tell strangers about my dis­abil­ity, they look at me in dis­be­lief. But that’s the point: I want to show peo­ple that we can all achieve so much more than we think we can. I went from not be­ing able to climb a flight of stairs to run­ning races and do­ing an ob­sta­cle course. Next up is the Cape Ar­gus Cy­cle Tour – I’ve even bought a bi­cy­cle!”

“I de­cided I wasn’t go­ing to let other peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes limit me.”

“I want to show peo­ple that we can all achieve so much more than we think we can.”

ABOVE At the start of The Two Oceans Marathon Fun Run this year. RIGHT In a hip spica cast at 15 months.

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