One-Legged Swimmer

Oscar Pistorius may have grabbed most headlines for his attempt to qualify for the Olympics, but despite him not making it to Beijing, there would still be an amputee going for the gold. Natalie Du Toit, a South African swimmer, made history earlier this year by qualifying for the Games, and hence becoming the first female amputee ever in the Olympics.

Born in Cape Town, Natalie was a young prodigy, having taken part in several international competitions by the age of 14 (including the 1998 Commonwealth Games). In the February of 2001, while driving to school on her scooter from swimming practice, she was hit by a car and her left leg had to be amputated at her knee. Miraculously, by May of the same year, Natalie had already started swimming even though she wasn’t able to walk. Unlike Oscar Pistorius, Natalie doesn’t use prosthetics.

2002 and 2004 were golden years for Natalie. At the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, she won both the 50 meter freestyle and 100 meter freestyle golds in the multi-disability category in record times (She went on to defend the her wins at the 2006 edition of the Commonwealth Games). She also made history when she qualified for the finals of the 800 meter freestyle competition in the able bodied category, thereby becoming the first amputee to qualify for the finals of an able bodied competition. At the closing ceremony, she was presented with the first David Dixon award for outstanding achievement at the Games.

2003 saw her win gold in the 800 meter freestyle event of the All African Games against able bodied athletes, as well as silver in the same event at the Afro-Asian Games along with a bronze in the 400 meter freestyle. Natalie narrowly missed out qualifying for the Athens Olympics in 2004, but at the Paralympics that were held in the same city that year, she won a silver and five golds medals. Her efforts earned her a nomination for the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a disability.

Du Toit would be competing in the 10 Kilometer Open Water swimming event at Beijing, an event that is making its first appearance at the Olympics. She earned the call up after finishing fourth at the World Championships in the event that were held in Seville on May 3, finishing just 5.1 seconds behind the winner.

Natalie’s participation in the Games is of immense importance, especially for all the disabled people in the world. The Olympics are the pinnacle of sporting achievement, and her qualification would serve as excellent motivation to all those who know her story. A medal isn’t out of the question: after all, she came close to winning one at the World Championships. But that would only add extra gloss, since Natalie has already written another chapter in the Olympics folklore.

Raveesh Bhalla

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