Based: Cape Town
South African swimmer Natalie du Toit, whose left leg was amputated below the knee in 2001, has gone on to compete against – and often beat – able-bodied swimmers at the highest level.
By the time she was a teenager, South African swimming had its eye on Natalie du Toit. The versatile Cape Town swimmer lit up the pool, set-ting multiple national age group records in both medley events and dominating many of her races. At 16, she nearly qualified for the 2000 Sydney Olympics in three events. People sensed great things were in store for the strong, determined swimmer. In 2004, Athens could become her playground. Then in 2001, those plans abruptly changed. Done with morning workout, du Toit eased her motor scooter into Monday rush-hour traffic and headed to school.
Just down the street from her pool, a careless driver exiting a parking lot ran directly into her left leg. The scene was gruesome; the devastation was immediately obvious. “I kept saying, ‘I’ve lost my leg, I’ve lost my leg,'” remembers du Toit. Her teammates rushed to her. Traffic snarled. The scene: total, horrible chaos. A motorcycle policeman racing to the accident crashed headfirst into a truck and had to be airlifted to a hospital. It would have been merciful if du Toit had fainted. But this is a girl who confronts reality without blinking. She stayed awake. At that moment, Natalie du Toit was not in the least preoccupied with her swimming career. But that state of mind would prove to be very temporary.
The tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching your goals; The tragedy of life lies in not having goals to reach for. It is not a disgrace not to reach for the stars, But it is a disgrace not to have stars to reach for.
‘Swim your own race’
Everyone goes through good and bad times in life. However, we always tend to focus on the good things and celebrate them; we ignore the bad things, which unfortunately often end up hindering us. My story is a personal journey of how I have learnt to face my good and bad situations and deal with it in a manner that I understand would be the best.
What I have done (and are still busy doing) to overcome my adversity and the lessons I’ve learned along the way, I believe holds true regardless of your age, sex, race, religion, nationality or financial standing. It all comes from self-belief – an exceptionally powerful tool, if we could just learn how to use it correctly every day.
Du Toit switched to longer events – from 200m and 400m individual medley to 800m and 1 500m freestyle – to make up for her loss of speed with only one leg. But she made no adjustment to her mental outlook.