11 March 2010
South African swimmer Natalie du Toit was named the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability at a gala ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday evening. She is one of only five athletes to have competed in the Olympics and Paralympics.
South African Sport Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) president Gideon Sam told the Sascoc website: “Natalie has done us proud over the years,” he said. “All South Africans can be proud of her spirit and her never-say-die attitude.”
‘A true inspiration’
“She is a true inspiration to each and every athlete in this country, indeed the world, and we are hoping that she can build on this prestigious award as we look ahead to the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in London.
“It’s people like Natalie that provide the incentive for the youngsters to aspire to greatness, he continued. “She fully deserves this acknowledgement.”
The Springboks, the winners of the World Team of the Year in 2008, were respresented in Abu Dhabi after being nominated for the award again, but this time it went to Formula One team Brawn GP.
‘Guts and determination’
Bok coach Peter de Villiers, chatting to the SA Rugby website, had warm words for Du Toit on her award, saying: “Congratulations to Natalie, who as a disabled athlete has shown that she has the guts and determination to take on the world’s best, be they disabled or able bodied. Her attitude should be an inspiration to us all.”
He also praised Brawn GP: “For Brawn GP, the Team of the Year accolade is due recognition for their achievements during 2009, which saw them produce a world champion.
“They were up against some very strong competition, including the Springboks, in the category but are truly deserving of the Award. All the other winners deserve congratulations for being nominated amongst the world’s best in their respective categories,” he added.
As one of South Africa’s leading swimmers, Du Toit first competed internationally at 14 years of age when she took part in the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.
She just missed out on qualifying for the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Then, in 2001, she was involved in an accident while on her way from swimming training and had her left leg amputated at the knee.
The following year, at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, she competed in the 800 metres freestyle final, the first time that an athlete with a disability had qualified for an able-bodied final. At the end of the Games she was presented with the David Dixon Award as the Outstanding Athlete of the Games.
All Africa gold medal
Du Toit won gold in the 800m freestyle at the All Africa Games in 2003 and later that year claimed a silver medal in the same event at the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad, India.
She was nominated for the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with Disability Award in 2004.
In 2008 Du Toit achieved one of her dreams when she qualified for the Olympic Games by finishing fourth in the 10-kilometre open water race at the Open Water World Championships in Seville, Spain.
In Beijing, she finished 16th in the 10-kilometre open water swim. Later, in the Paralympics, she won five gold medals.
She was chosen to carry South Africa’s flag at the opening ceremony and later carried it again at the opening ceremony of the Paralympics.
Her five gold medals helped South Africa finish in sixth place in the medals standings. Du Toit was also awarded the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award, which is presented at every Paralympic Games to one male and one female who best exemplifies the spirit of the Games and inspires and excites the world.
In December 2009, she was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in gold by President Zuma. The award is made to South Africans who have excelled in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism, and sport. Gold is the highest level, followed by silver and bronze.
IAHV Youth Leadership Award
In November 2008, Du Toit received the International Association for Human Values (IAHV) Youth Leadership Award at the European Parliament in Brussels.
The prestigious honour recognises young leaders with an astonishing track record of performance and/or social responsibility.
Du Toit is a member of the Laureus Friends and Ambassadors Programme, a select group of current and retired sportsmen and women, who have achieved sporting greatness or made significant contributions to the sporting community during their careers, and are recognised as role models and icons in their countries.
Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material