‘It’s im­por­tant for dis­abled chil­dren to play sport’

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - JAN CRONJE

WESTERN Cape Par­a­lympic gold medal win­ners Charl du Toit and Rein­hardt Ham­man have is­sued two chal­lenges to their fel­low South Africans – to at­tend a lo­cal dis­abled sports event and to help get more chil­dren in­volved in Par­a­lympic sports.

The team­mates re­turned last week from the 2016 Sum­mer Par­a­lympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where Team SA was placed 22nd, bring­ing home 17 medals.

Du Toit, dubbed “smil­ing light­ning” for his ir­re­press­ible grin as he streaked ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion, won dou­ble gold medals in the T37 100m and 400m. Ham­man took gold in the F38 javelin throw. Re­lax­ing at Ham­man’s home in Strand, the friends talked of the im­por­tance of dis­abled sports de­vel­op­ment.

“My chal­lenge is to come and sit and watch a para-meet with dis­abled kids com­pet­ing and en­joy­ing it so much you can ac­tu­ally see them beam­ing with pride,” said Ham­man.

The 26- year- old promised spec­ta­tors would leave the event with their “whole lives changed”.

“I have been com­pet­ing for 13 years. Ev­ery sin­gle time I go to in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions it again changes my life,” he said.

Du Toit, 23, said dis­abled pupils should know a door was open to par­take in sports.

“I would like to chal­lenge schools out there to get kids into sport­ing struc­tures,” said Du Toit. “I want them not to be afraid of par­tic­i­pat­ing in dis­abled sports.

“No­body is go­ing to look at you weirdly or tease you – just get into sports struc­tures. It can open a lot of doors for you.”

Ham­man and Du Toit were part of a strong Western Cape con­tin­gent in Team SA. Of the team’s 17 medals, 13 were won by ath­letes train­ing and liv­ing in the province. Ham­man, who is also the reign­ing T38 javelin World Cham­pion after he won gold at the IPC Ath­let­ics World Cham­pi­onships in Doha, Qatar, last year, said at­tend­ing a dis­abled sports meet would “have you hooked for the rest of your life”.

“You will leave there and say ‘I can’t be­lieve I only got here now – why only now?’” he said.

The team­mates took dif­fer­ent paths to star­dom. Du Toit, who has cere­bral palsy, comes from an ath­letic fam­ily. Both his par­ents were pro­vin­cial ath­letes. He, how­ever, only “re­ally started en­joy­ing” ath­let­ics in 2010 in Grade 11 at Ho­er­skool Aka­sia in Pretoria. He later moved to Stel­len­bosch to study and first com­peted at the Par­a­lympics in Lon­don in 2012.

Ham­man, who also has cere­bral palsy, started his ath­let­ics ca­reer at 13 as a pupil at Vista Nova school in Ron­de­bosch. Du Toit broke the 100m T37 world record in Rio.

The next ma­jor Par­a­lympic event in the Western Cape is tak­ing place on Novem­ber 12, with the venue still to be con­firmed.

The Western Cape Tri­als will help se­lect about 200 ju­nior and se­nior ath­letes to at­tend the Na­tional Cham­pi­onships for the Phys­i­cally Dis­abled in Port El­iz­a­beth next year.

The Western Province Sport As­so­ci­a­tion for the Phys­i­cally Dis­abled is work­ing to raise more than R750 000 to cover the trans­porta­tion and ac­com­mo­da­tion costs of the ath­letes.

jan.cronje@inl.co.za

PIC­TURE: KURT ENGEL

Par­a­lympic gold medal win­ners Charl du Toit and Rein­hardt Ham­man show off their gold medals.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

Charl du Toit cel­e­brates after tak­ing gold in the fi­nal of the T37 400m at the Rio Par­a­lympics.

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