Every cloud has a silver lining but it is not always easy to see. Disabled athlete Dylan da Silva has gone all out not only to see the silver lining, but also to grab it and hold on. A cyclist and swimmer, he has already notched up an impressive list of achievements, but he is not ready to rest yet.
Driven by a passion to do what many people would call impossible, his next goals are to climb Kilimanjaro and to represent the rainbow nation in the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil. By conquering Africa’s highest mountain, he hopes he will inspire others, as well as raise funds to help other disabled people reach their peak – to find what he calls “Nolimbits”, a personal slogan taken from the Guts2Glory motto “No Limits”.
Guts2Glory is a non-profit organisation founded by Lee Mc Queen and friends with a goal to help raise funds for underprivileged disabled athletes, helping them to realise their dream to compete in the Paralympics and other competitions.
The group is also helping Da Silva in his Kilimanjaro efforts; he hopes to climb the mountain in January 2014, a date that is dependent on how many sponsors get on board.
The 19-year-old is also looking for help from anyone willing to spread their wings in hopes of having him bring home the gold in 2016.
Already through its campaign, Wingz of Change, Ballz Visual Radio 93.8 Mix FM, a Gauteng radio station, has donated a bicycle since Da Silva’s five-year-old one was getting a bit too small for him to use in competitions. Wingz of Change aims to help one person a week.
The athlete says: “I can consult with a bicycle specialist to customise the bicycle to accommodate my disability … I am training towards Brazil, which is my ultimate dream and goal – to participate in the Paralympics – but first I’ll take it one step at a time and focus on next year’s race.”
THE CAPE ARGUS
He would love to win the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour on 9 March 2014. The annual cycle race around the peninsular is the world’s largest individually timed cycle race.
Da Silva is an active person who wants to accomplish the top level in all things he pursues. This drive began when he was still young. “I have always been an active child,” he says, “and I had a great interest in sport. I wanted to join my older brother in swimming but in the beginning, because of the difference in the length of my arms, I would swim in circles until finally I could swim in a straight line.”
He was inspired by his mother Melissa da Silva, who has always held that “you won’t know what you’re capable of until you try”.
He adds: “I always try to do not the best but to give it my all in everything I do in life. I was born with phocomelia. My left arm ends at the elbow with just a stump and my right arm is three quarters in length with no elbow and half a hand with two fingers that could not bend.
“I have since had surgery and am able to bend my fingers minimally.”
Phocomelia is a birth defect in which the upper portion of a limb is absent or is poorly developed.
Given his disability, it was difficult for his mother to find a swimming club, but she met swimming instructor Bonny Harris, who watched him swim in amazement. She quickly agreed to coach him. It was not long before Harris recommended that he become a registered swimmer and she found Da Silva a coach in Theo Verster, who was head coach at St Andrew’s Dragons.
“I have been swimming competitively since 2008, winning many medals and I also hold a few South African records. During this time I was also cycling but not as competitively as the swimming. However, I’ve being participated in South African National Championships for the Physically Disabled every year since 2007 in both swimming and cycling, also winning many medals. I also hold a few South African records in cycling.”
In his competitive career, Da Silva has clocked up five bronze, 23 silver and 30 gold medals. He also won four South African National Championships for the Physically Disabled in Port Elizabeth for swimming, and in Durban 2012 he went on to win a championship in cycling with two records and two more gold medals.
About his heroes, he says: “I look up to my mom … most of who you would call my icons are now my friends and some are individuals with whom I compete.” Nolimbits indeed
“I received a medal in 2008 from Central Gauteng Sports and Recreation for all my achievements at the South African National Championships for the Physically Disabled.”
It takes a strong heart to stand up against the odds and what this young man has done and is still doing is truly a story of hope. By not looking at what he doesn’t have but how far he is willing to go, he is inspiring those around him.
Most recently, he was in Cape Town where he took part in the Spin for a Dream, which was made possible by Guts2Glory. “I want people to know that just because you have neither legs nor arms we are all different in a way as humans and if you have the passion for it you can make it,” says Da Silva.