Mitchell’s Plain really is home to champions with a number of athletes from the area achieving gold with record-breaking performances at national competitions.
Riaan Galant, 18, from Beacon Valley, a matriculant at Eros Special Education School, in Bridgetown, smashed three records at last week’s SA Sports Association for the Physically Disabled (SASAPD) national championships, held at various venues across the city.
A member of the Athlone-based Unitie Sports Club, the young athlete has been involved with athletics for six years, specialising in field events javelin, shot put and discus. He dominated his division at last week’s championships, improving his own records set during trials the previous year.
Born with cerebral palsy which affects the muscles in his legs and categorised in the F34 division for seated athletes, Riaan says he’s had to work hard balancing school work and training for major competitions.
“There are times when my sports training and strength training clash with other priorities, like school. For example, for my entire first term exams I had to balance my training, finishing school work and studying while also focusing on athletics. I had to be productive,” he said, somewhat wryly.
“When I get home from school, I just make me something to eat, go straight to my books, finish any work I didn’t finish, study and then sit with my Bible for a few minutes before taking an hour-long break. That’s the hour where you’d see me train or do strength training for my upcoming events in the nationals or trials,” he said.
Thankfully, he says, he has Muriel Susa, 72, a legendary coach in the disabled sports sector, in his corner. A long-serving member of Unitie, Susa has been at the forefront of promoting sports for the disabled for nearly 60 years, 45 years as a coach, taking a number of athletes under her wing and ensuring their success on national and international level.
“Riaan is a very dedicated, consistent and disciplined athlete and will next be in competition in Stellenbosch later this year to try and qualify for the SA championships in Bloemfontein 2024, which is also the year of the Paralympics in Paris,” she said.
Based on his performance, Riaan stands a good chance to make the squad, she said, pointing out that there are a number of challenges he and other disabled athletes face. Over and above their disabilities, they are very much marginalised compared to the able-bodied athletes. The worst challenge they face is finance, they must pay for everything, even the tracksuit they wear to represent Western Cape,” she said.
For now, her star athlete remains composed in the face of adversity, preferring to figure out ways to overcome whatever challenges may lie ahead. “The moment my training begins I don’t stop,” he said, “because I need to do everything that I can do, because I’m always pressed for time… so, I have to use the time while I still have it and not waste a second of it, “ he said.
“I’m praying that I shall be elected to go to the Paralympics and represent South Africa in Paris and become a professional athlete,” he said.
Meanwhile, Riaan is not the only Mitchell’s Plain athlete who performed well in recent competitions. Parkhurst Primary School’s Lamica Adamson, 11, a key member of Team Western Cape’s under-11 4x100m relay team who showed the rest of the field a clean pair of heels at last week’s primary schools’ national championships in Pietermaritzburg, also claimed victory in the 80m dash and 100m sprint event at the nationals.
The young sprinter, a member of coach Paul Jacobus’ Elite Athletes Sprints and Hurdles Academy, was the guest of honour at a small gathering at Dagbreek Hall, in Westridge, at the weekend. Organised at short notice by Westridge sports enthusiast Rodney Brown and his friend Donny McCloughlon, Saturday’s gathering paid tribute to the team and in particular, Lamicah’s achievements.
“We’ve all witnessed the euphoria of the Western Cape girls under-11 relay team over the past week. It was an awesome achievement in excellence and important that they are celebrated and be acknowledged along with their coaches,” said Brown, who indicated that this could be the start of regular celebrations.
“There are lots of local achievements of kids, whether academic, in the arts or in the sporting arena that go unnoticed. For some reason, federations and organisations either miss an opportunity or it just flies under the radar. This was important to highlight that everyone can aspire to greatness,” he said.
The mini event brought together a number of guest speakers representing various codes and afforded them the opportunity to promote their respective sports. But the star of the show was undoubtedly the shy pre-teen who, it seems, prefers to do her talking on the track. In a now gone viral video played during the proceedings, Lamicah can be seen gliding down the back straight on the second leg of the race, to give her team a commanding lead and ultimately, a convincing victory.
“I was very happy and knew we were going to win,” she said when asked about the team’s record-breaking feat.
“I want to continue training hard to perform as well as I did this year and hopefully make it to the Olympics in the future,” she said.
Her team’s performance attracted the attention of former American 400m hurdles champion, Sharrieffa Barksdale, who represented her country at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. In a voice note played at the gathering, Barksdale, who runs a one-on-one training academy, said she was looking forward to meeting the youngster when she visits the city later this year.
The best was yet to come, as former WP star hurdler Naeem Jack ran the competition into the ground at Athletics South Africa’s under-16, under-18 and under-20 national championships in the same city, last Friday.
Now sporting the black and gold colours of Boland Athletics since his transfer from Mondale High to Paarl Boys, Naeem, 15, was at his explosive best, first out of the starting blocks in the boys’ under-18 110m hurdles and crossing the finish line in record-breaking style.
In an interview immediately after the race, an out-of-breath Naeem thanked his coaches, parents and God, saying he had high expectations and that anything is possible, even though he felt a bit down after his heats.
“I can’t even explain the feeling because I just came out here to the podium. I kept telling myself that I can do it and I put faith in my God. Everyone needs to do that, anything is possible with God on your side,” he said.
In other action, Zachary Harper, 12, from Strandfontein, a Grade 7 pupil at Westcott Primary in Diep River, claimed victory at the Karate South Africa (KSA) national championship, in Durban a week ago, winning gold in kumite in the under-55kg weight division. In February, young Zachary won the title at the Western Province championship, in Stellenbosch, to book his spot at nationals.
Zachary joined the Colorado Park-based Karate Satori at the age of 5 to train under the watchful eye of Jeffery Jackson, himself an accomplished sportsman who represented South Africa on multiple occasions.
His teammate Kaycee Jonas, 12, from Beacon Valley, won bronze in the under-50kg division at the same tournament.