30 September 2013
South African swimmer Natalie du Toit, who led the way in bridging the divide between Paralympic and Olympic sport, is to receive an honorary MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), the British High Commission announced on Friday.
Du Toit, who retired from competitive swimming after the 2012 London Paralympics, told the South African Press Association (Sapa) on the weekend: “I find myself extremely humbled and honoured to be receiving this auspicious award. To those that have made it possible, I thank you for believing in me and by having stayed by my side.”
British Acting High Commissioner Martin Reynolds said: “Natalie has achieved great success in her sport, demonstrating an ability to compete with the best in both Olympic and Paralympic disciplines at numerous international sporting events.
“Natalie is an inspiration to up and coming athletes throughout the world and I am delighted she has been recognised for her achievements.”
As a teenager, Du Toit was a rising star of South African swimming when she was involved in accident in 2001, which resulted in her left leg being amputated below the knee.
Incredibly, the following year she was back in the pool and competing in the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
She qualified for the 800 metres freestyle final – the first time in history that an athlete with disability had qualified for the final of an able-bodied event – and also won gold in the multi-disability 50m and 100m freestyle, both in world record times.
David Dixon Award
Du Toit was presented with the first David Dixon award for the Outstanding Athlete of the Games at the closing ceremony.
She went on to compete in the Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012, winning 13 gold medals and two silver medals. She also competed in the 10-kilometre open water swim in the 2008 Olympics, finishing sixteenth.
That same year Du Toit carried the South African flag at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, making her the only person in history to have carried her country’s flag at both events.
After the 2008 Paralympics she was 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.
Later that year, she received the International Association for Human Values (IAHV) Youth Leadership Award at the European Parliament in Brussels.
Order of Ikhamanga
In December 2009, Du Toit was presented with the Order of Ikhamanga in gold by President Jacob 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.
In March 2010, she was named the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability.
After winning a silver medal in her last competitive event, the 100 metres freestyle, at the 2012 London Paralympics, she told reporters: “I look back and realise I gave everything in the pool and gave everything as a person. It’s time to move on. I’ve no idea what’s next.”
An honorary OBE is what’s next. Du Toit will be presented with the award by His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex at a ceremony in Pretoria in October.