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