Zanele Situ overcame various challenges to become the first black South African athlete to win a Paralympic gold medal. CLAIRE RENCKEN looks at her record
Born in Matatiele in the Eastern Cape in 1971, Situ became paralysed in 1982 after contracting a TB infection, which affected her spinal cord.
While attending the Ikhwezi Lokusa Special School in Matatiele, she was encouraged to try her hand at field events and quickly found that she excelled in javelin, discus and shot put.
The rest, as they say, is history. This year Situ will be competing in her fifth Paralympic Games. Here is a brief summary of her Paralympic achievements to date:
- 2000: Gold in javelin (new world record); silver in discus
- 2004: Gold in javelin (and once again a new world record)
- 2008: 4th in javelin
- 2012: 4th in javelin
She is optimistic about this year’s Games: “I am expecting good results. Naturally, I would like to do well, but what is most important is that I continue to improve. A medal would be a bonus.” Javelin will once again be her main event, but she will also be competing in the discus event.
Situ says sport has helped her in many different ways. “Most importantly it helped me realise what I am capable of, despite being a wheelchair user. My athletics career has also helped me to inspire other people, particularly athletes, with disabilities.”
She offers the following advice to other young people with disabilities wanting to participate in sport at a competitive level: “Get involved; try out different sports to see what you like and what you’re good at. From then on, just train hard and enjoy it!”
Her parting words of wisdom are as follows: “I would just like to encourage any parent who has a child with a disability to get them involved in a sport, because I know the difference it can make – just look how it changed my life.”
Rolling Inspiration wishes Zanele everything of the best for the Games in Rio. We will be eagerly and proudly watching her progress.