University of Johannesburg (UJ) student-athlete Yane van der Merwe continues to shine in her young career as she set a new under-20 javelin record at the South African championships in Germiston last month. The 19-year-old para field athlete competes in the F44 class and threw the javelin a distance of 26,56 m to claim the gold medal.
She added a bronze in the shot-put mixed competition to her tally and is now looking forward to competing in the World Para Athletics Junior Championships, which will be held in Switzerland from August 1 to 4.
Born with a club foot, Van der Merwe grew up in Mpumalanga and now lives on campus in Auckland Park. She is in her first year of a BA sports development degree. Her interest in athletics was sparked by a conversation with a friend, with whom she trained.
“After she told my mother and me about it, we did some research and I began competing in para athletics towards the end of 2016,” says Van der Merwe. “The class F44 means that you have a joint below the knee that does not function properly. For me it is my right ankle as I have only a minimum degree of function, meaning I cannot move my ankle in any way.”
She immediately revealed her potential by winning the under-18 girls’ javelin event at the National Champships in Port Elizabeth in 2017, and since then she has won a string of medals. The highlight of her career so far, she says, came at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation World Games in Portugal in 2017.
“I came home with a gold medal for javelin and a bronze medal for shot put, so that has been my biggest achievement so far,” Van der Merwe says.
This year she has confirmed her standing in South African athletics, winning gold medals in the javelin, shot put and discus events at the South African National Championships for the Physically Disabled and Visually Impaired in Stellenbosch. In the world para athletics rankings, Van der Merwe currently holds second place for javelin, third for shot put and fifth for discus.
She says breaking the national record was not something she expected.
“I was really surprised when I broke my javelin record of last year after not throwing such a good distance at the Champs earlier this year in Stellenbosch. I was actually going for the discus record, especially after I just missed it last year,” Van der Merwe explains. While she is proficient in three events, javelin is her favourite.
“I have been competing in javelin since I was 12 years old and in Grade 6. I competed at school level against able-bodied competitors,” she says, adding that she had been blessed with a significant support group. “My family and friends, with all the support and love from their side, have been very important, while UJ has given me the opportunity to follow my dreams.”
She has now set her sights on trying to qualify for the World Para Championships in Dubai in November, as well as next year’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo.