Du Toit happy out of the pool
SHE was South Africa’s greatest Paralympic swimmer.
These days, however, you’re more likely to find Natalie du Toit hitting the books rather than hitting the pool.
And the 32-year-old has no regrets.
Having called it quits on her illustrious career shortly after competing at the London Paralympic games four years ago, Du Toit said she had no desire to return to competitive swimming. Instead, she has been firmly focused on achieving her lifelong dream of a degree in business management.
So come next month, when the Olympic and Paralympic games kick off in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Du Toit will be more than happy to enjoy the sporting spectacle from the comfort of her home.
“I had always wanted to retire in 2012, whether I had achieved all my dreams or not,” Du Toit said. “This would enable me to go on and study and work and earn some money while still young enough, but old enough to know that I had achieved everything possible in my sporting career.”
While it will be a new experience for her, Du Toit said she was looking forward to enjoying the Rio Games as a fan.
“It’s actually going to be loads of fun watching it,” she said. “It will give me a chance to look back and remember all the great moments I enjoyed at the Olympic Games.”
While she may not be there to win any gold medals this time round, Du Toit said she had plenty of faith in the new crop of swimmers who will represent South Africa.
“The standard of disability sport is definitely improving and our swimmers are a big part of that. Records are there to be broken and I sincerely hope that one of our swimmers make history this time round.”
Du Toit’s glittering career saw her win 13 Paralympic gold medals and in the process break several world records. She also competed at the Commonwealth and Olympics Games, making her one of very few Paralympic athletes to compete at able-bodied competitions.
“In 2008 I had managed to qualify for the Olympic Games in the 10km event and I cannot explain how that felt. I had achieved my ultimate goal after many setbacks.
“The challenge was to be able to sprint at the 2008 Paralympics, two weeks after training specifically for the 10km open water event. Somehow it all came together and everything turned out perfectly. That is what always makes the experience a very positive one.”
So what was it like standing on the podium for the first time to collect a gold medal at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Greece?
“Swimming personal best times constantly and winning a gold medal was a relief, a proud moment for myself and my team.
“I was more nervous about standing correctly whilst the national anthem was playing. I kept thinking did my hair look okay and was I walking well. However, only when I had arrived home did it all really sink in. ”
Du Toit believes the key to success for her was hard work and self-belief.
“You have to believe in your coach and the training programmes he has prepared and have your team and everyone around you believe in you,” she said.
Du Toit also had some parting advice for her fellow athletes competing at the Rio games next month: “Experience as much as possible at the Olympics/ Paralympics and embrace the challenges. Make friends and enjoy every moment. Do not let any athletes try and put you off and just give it your best.”
Natalie du Toit competes in the women’s 100m freestyle S9 finals during the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010.