‘When I picked up a rac­quet 13 years ago, I never imag­ined I’d end up at Wim­ble­don one day’

Essentials (South Africa) - - YOUR LIFE -

Kgothatso Mon­t­jane, 32, is a pro­fes­sional wheel­chair ten­nis player and lives in Mooik­loof Ridge, Pre­to­ria. Grow­ing up and play­ing with my young cousins and friends in Polok­wane I never re­ally felt dif­fer­ent, although I knew I was. Strangely, the dif­fer­ence only sank in when I started school at age six and dis­cov­ered oth­ers like me. A lot of the chil­dren at my school were us­ing crutches and in wheel­chairs, while oth­ers walked with a limp: it was like look­ing in a mir­ror, and it re­in­forced my sense of dif­fer­ence with able-bod­ied kids. I was born with an un­de­vel­oped foot from a birth de­fect, so I wore a sur­gi­cal boot most of the time to walk as nor­mally as pos­si­ble.

When I turned 12, doc­tors ad­vised my par­ents to have my leg am­pu­tated be­cause it was af­fect­ing my move­ment and I was able to adapt to life in a weelchair quite quickly. Later, I learnt to walk with a pros­thetic leg.

My body My phys­i­cal chal­lenges didn’t stop me from tak­ing part in most school ac­tiv­i­ties. I have al­ways liked to be ac­tive and I got in­volved in every­thing from wheel­chair bas­ket­ball to ball­room danc­ing. I didn’t want to start any­thing else but one of my teach­ers sug­gested I at­tend the Wheel­chair Ten­nis South Africa ( WTSA) camp. So, aged 19, at the camp I picked up a rac­quet for the first time. I had never played ten­nis be­fore and it wasn’t some­thing I knew a lot about, but I did what I was told and mimicked what the more ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers were do­ing. The more I played, the eas­ier it be­came and the more I en­joyed it. I con­tin­ued to play ten­nis at high school and we trans­formed the bad­minton hall into a makeshift ten­nis court, lin­ing up chairs in the cen­tre to act as the net.

When I started study­ing a BSc at the Univer­sity of Venda in 2006 I con­tin­ued play­ing wheel­chair ten­nis be­cause it was the only sport they of­fered for the phys­i­cally chal­lenged, and I trained with the play­ers from WTSA on the week­ends.

One of my WTSA coaches thought I had tal­ent and con­vinced me to take at least a year off to train and com­pete once I had fin­ished my de­gree, and that’s what I did in 2010. By 2013, when I was win­ning tour­na­ments against play­ers whom I thought were re­ally good, I knew I could make a ca­reer out of it.

The war­rior

I learnt not to see my body’s chal­lenges as a dis­ad­van­tage but as a hur­dle that had to be over­come;

I tackle things with a pos­i­tive mind­set.

I’m cur­rently ranked num­ber five on the In­ter­na­tional Ten­nis Fed­er­a­tion World Wheel­chair Ten­nis cir­cuit, and my great­est achieve­ment has def­i­nitely been reaching the Wim­ble­don women’s wheel­chair sin­gles semi-fi­nals in July 2018

– I’m also the very first black South African woman to play at Wim­ble­don.

My body has al­ways done what my mind be­lieved it could do

wh ere I am now

I live by my­self in an apart­ment on the sec­ond floor and I drive wher­ever I need to go. It hasn’t been easy but my body has al­ways done what my mind be­lieved it could, and it hasn’t held me back. I’m grate­ful to it for help­ing me ex­cel as a pro­fes­sional ten­nis player. I have faith that my body will help me be­come the num­ber-one wheel­chair ten­nis player in the world, and achieve my dream of teach­ing ten­nis.

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