5th September, 2012
2K Plus International Sports Media
One of the stars of the 2012 Paralympics is South African swimmer Natalie du Toit, 28, who has already won gold here in London in the women's S9 100-meter butterfly. This was her 11th Paralympic gold, and she still has several events to come.
Du Toit also won this event at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, and after the race said, "I think I am just relieved, really. It's the last time I'll swim the 100-meter butterfly, so that's the third race and three golds!"
When she was a young girl, du Toit decided that she would retire at 28, reasoning that it "would be old enough and young enough to still know that I've achieved everything possible. But I could also go out there and study and achieve different things. And to just give back in a little way as well."
Indeed, du Toit has already been acting as a mentor for a rising tide of young swimmers. One of these is Ellie Cole of Australia, who beat du Toit to gold in the women's S9 100-meter backstroke on Friday. "Natalie is Paralympian of the year," Cole said right after winning the final. "She's got every medal under the sun, so she's like the Michael Phelps of swimming for me! She's been a great mentor. She's still definitely my hero."
Du Toit began her career as a swimmer at the age of 14 in the 1998 Commonwealth Games, then lost her left leg in a motorcycle accident three years later. Returning as a Paralympian, she has dominated the pool ever since. And she was the first amputee to compete in both Olympic and Paralympic Games. In Beijing 2008, she swam in the women's 10-kilometre Olympic final and carried her nation's flag in both Olympic and Paralympic opening ceremonies.
She credits her faith with giving her inner strength to face life's challenges. "Of course, I have days when I am sad and emotional," she said, "but God helps me through those times."
So it's no surprise that she has found a role as a motivational speaker in addition to her studies in sports management, genetics and physiology. "It's important to swim your own race and not someone else's," she said. "But my message isn't just about disability: it's about going out there and believing in yourself, setting goals, having dreams."
Rich Cline is a freelance journalist based in London. He has covered eight Olympic Games for 2K Plus International Sports Media, but London 2012 is his first Paralympics.