Visually impaired but a world-class athlete

She moves with confidence and purpose, and when on the track, she’s lightning fast. Louzanne Coetzee is rapidly becoming a household name, with a clutch of records in her trophy cabinet and clearly more to come

Twenty-six-year-old T11 (visually impaired) competitor Louzanne Coetzee lost her sight to a genetic disorder known as Leber congenital amaurosis, an inherited retinal degenerative disease characterised by severe loss of vision at birth. However, Coetzee has resolutely pursued her cherished aim to be a world-class – in fact, a world-dominating – athlete.

A graduate of the University of the Free State, Coetzee and her former guide participated in the Paralympics in Rio in 2016, but, heartbreakingly, were disqualified after their race (in which they would have received the bronze medal). Undeterred, though, she smashed her own world record at the World Para Athletics Grand Prix in Berlin last year, taking 13,97 seconds off the time she set in the T11 category of the women’s 5 000 m.

In March, she set good times in the 800 m and the 1 500 m at the 2019 South Africa Sports Association for People with Disabilities (SASAPD) National Championships, sponsored by Toyota. Her training for the London Marathon, which took place in April, took a toll on her ability to set up a personal best.

Her guide now is Xavier Adams, who’s clearly indispensable in her chase for success. As Coetzee acknowledges, having the right guide is crucial. “When I first met Xavier, at a cross-country event, I felt an immediate bond,” she says. “We clicked and I asked him if he’d be my guide. From then on we have trained together all the time.”

What is it about Adams that is so right for her? “He’s very sensitive to my style and pace,” she says. And, crucially, he doesn’t run ahead of her. Although the two are linked by a short lariat on their wrists, the competitor athlete must at all times be positioned on the track slightly ahead of the guide: he (or she) is not permitted to “pull” the competitor.

And the training? “We train together six days a week, twice a day. On Sundays it’s like a rest day – we train just once.” A special diet? “No, not at all. I eat whatever I want, when I want.” One gets the feeling that that’s exactly how this spirited young woman approaches her whole life.

Glenn Crompton, Vice President: Marketing at Toyota South Africa Motors, says young people like Coetzee are the reason why Toyota has entered into a three-year partnership with SASAPD to promote the sporting codes offered at Paralympic level for athletes with disabilities.

“At Toyota, we believe that movement and mobility in all its definitions is all around us. Sport has the power to connect people. This where we learn the true power of sport – it can challenge us, inspire us and, most importantly, unify us.

“As the Worldwide Official Mobility Partner of the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee, Toyota shares the vision to inspire people to push onward – past their finish line, past their impossible. Coetzee is one of many examples of people achieving the impossible at the SASAPD National Championships.

“Toyota believes that you can achieve great things when you move. This is why we are a proud partner of the SASAPD National Championships. We are wholeheartedly committed to unleashing human potential through the power of movement,” Crompton concludes.

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