Du Toit happy out of the pool

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - SAMEER NAIK

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.”

sameer.naik@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

Natalie du Toit com­petes in the women’s 100m freestyle S9 fi­nals dur­ing the Com­mon­wealth Games in New Delhi in 2010.

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