Vhutuhawe Nemutandani, who was fitted with two prosthetic limbs from Jumping Kids in September, begins his classification journey towards his goal of competing in the Paralympics. Louisa Kirsten (centre) and Charmaine de Bruyn (right) begin the long day of classifying athletes from around the district.
Date: 16 November 2018 By: Jo Robinson
With the help of modern technology and volunteers, disabled people can now compete in athletics and other events that they would never have dreamed of a few years ago.
Local disabled athletes gathered at Louis Trichardt Primary School on Saturday, 10 November, to be tested and classified to become para-athletes. Para-athletics comprises many more categories than running. The classification of these athletes is very precise, and only a few people are qualified to do this.
Louisa Kirsten works as a physiotherapist at Louis Trichardt Memorial Hospital and is one of only a few international assessors for the classification of para-athletes. Louisa told the newspaper that making sure that competitors were physically perfectly matched was important to ensure fairness. Once classified, these athletes might be more closely matched than “normal” athletes, who compete on the basis of gender, age or weight. Many things can go wrong with the human body and result in congenital disability, or accidents and injuries can happen after birth, also resulting in loss of limbs or function of some kind.
Louisa and Sandy James (local organiser of the day) are ardent supporters of para-athletics and are well along in the process of helping local disabled athletes plan to take part in the many provincial and national events that are available to them. “Many of us are unaware of the opportunities that exist for the development and promotion of various sporting disciplines for physically challenged or disabled people. Being physically active and involved in a healthy recreational or competitive sport or outdoor activity not only enhances our physical health but also helps to alleviate the stress levels associated with work and other pressures. While many able-bodied citizens find it relatively easy to become involved in a sport at various levels, those who are disabled do not always know where to slot in and become actively involved in sport,” said Sandy.
Sandy explained that structures exist in every province in South Africa to make sport accessible to disabled athletes. This was demonstrated at an event held at Louis Trichardt High School in September to create awareness. Spectators came over a little starstruck when visiting blade-runners showed them what they could do. South African Paralympic blade-running superstar Ntando Mahlangu, as well as Daniel du Plessis and Tebogo Mofokeng, flew around the track, proving to amazed and admiring onlookers that having no lower legs can no longer stop anyone from running like the wind.
One of the highlights of that day was when little Vhutuhawe Nemutandani (9) was fitted with two prosthetic limbs, thanks to The Jumping Kids programme and sponsorship from the Harcourts Foundation. The change was remarkable as this little boy suddenly realised that he could not only walk but run and jump. On Saturday, he began his journey of classification and participation towards his end goal of one day competing at the Para-Olympics.
Louisa and a co-classifier, Charmaine de Bruyn (who is the chairperson of Disabled Sport in Gauteng), classified athletes from around the entire Vhembe District. Classifiers cannot work alone, and they have to be teams of two or three, all of whom are qualified in physiotherapy or have medical qualifications that enable them to assess impairments correctly. The chairperson of Disabled Sport in Limpopo, Mr Ernest Netshitanini, was also present to support this drive to get local athletes not only interacting, but also competing.
Sandy told the newspaper that a group of local enthusiasts was in the process of launching a satellite IsAbility Club in Louis Trichardt. “IsAbility is an inclusive club, not only for people with disabilities, but for able-bodied athletes as well,” she said. “The aim is to be a contact point where athletes and people with disabilities can become involved and be able to network with the structures that will help them to participate in a sporting code – whether it be for fun or for competition.”
The official launch of the club will take place early in 2019. People with disabilities (or able-bodied), even if they have never participated in a sport before but are interested in finding out more, are invited to contact Sandy James at 084 506 3333, Sheryl James at 061 023 0771, Louisa Kirsten at 083 561 5983 or Ernest Netshitanini (Limpopo chairperson of the South African Sports Association for people with Physical Disabilities) at 073 455 7034. The websites can also be visited at sasapd.org.za for more information.
The organisers would like to thank Mr Louis Linde and Louis Trichardt Primary School for the use of their facilities.
Jo joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in 2018 pursuing a career in journalism after many years of writing fiction and non-fiction for other sectors.