With South Africa’s team of 44 athletes competing in the Summer Paralympic Games in Rio from 7 to 18 September, Nedbank has launched an innovative Twitter campaign to celebrate these new South African heroes and to encourage other South Africans to get to know them.
As one of the title sponsors of paralympic sport in South Africa, and a partner of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, Nedbank decided to address this, as Badenhorst explains:
‘Together with our agency, Native, we came up with a campaign where South Africans can meet the new South African heroes through a simple retweet of @Nedbank #teamSArise. This is the ‘opt in’ for you to have 45 digital paralympian collector cards tweeted to you as each of the para-athletes competes in Rio, cheered on by competitor 45, the official mascot Chukuru, which means rhinoceros in Setswana.
The retweet also enters you into a competition where you stand a chance to win an invitation to the Nedbank experience of your choice, including the Delicious Festival 2016, Nedbank Golf Challenge 2016, Design Indaba 2017 or Nedbank Cup 2017.
‘Our Paralympians brought home 29 medals from London in 2012 (eight gold, 12 silver and nine bronze), and they might bring home more from Rio, with our first gold on Thursday 8th September from swimmer Kevin Paul in the men’s 100 m breaststroke. Yet many South Africans don’t even know our Paralympians’ names,’ says Tobie Badenhorst, Group Sponsorships and Cause Marketing at Nedbank.
‘These athletes all have remarkable stories that can inspire us and make our country proud,’ adds Badenhorst. ‘Regrettably, the Oscar Pistorius case detracted from the many paralympian stars that South Africa produces, several of whom have competed in numerous successive Paralympic Games. We need to support and celebrate them.’
Wheelchair-racer and handcyclist Ernst van Dyk is competing in his seventh Paralympics; his first was Barcelona in 1992. He has one gold, one silver and one bronze medal. Javelin and discus para-athlete Zanele Situ has two golds and one silver, and will be competing in her fifth Paralympics, and para-equestrian Philippa Johnson, who won double gold in Beijing in 2008 is competing in her fourth Paralympics.
Then there are the rising stars, including the new bladerunner, 14-year-old double-leg amputee Ntando Mahlangu, who won silver for Team South Africa in the men’s T42 final on Sunday 11th September. The Mpumalanga athlete’s time of 23.77 seconds was tipped by British Paralympian Richard Whitehead (23.39).
Mahlangu astonished the world at the International Wheelchair & Amputee Sports Under 23 World Games in Prague from 29 June to 3 July this year. He won in several T42 distances: the 800 m (2:06.70s) (new world record), the 400 m (52.61s) (new world record), the 200 m (25.89s) and 100 m (13:13s), and he was awarded Best Athlete at the Games.
T42 is a classification for disability athletics that applies to athletes with single, above-the-knee amputations or comparable disabilities.
Mahlangu received his prosthetic legs through Jumping Kids – a South African organisation launched in 2009 by Johan Snyders that provides the latest prosthetic limb technology to children. Today, Mahlangu is an ambassador for Ottobock, an international prosthetics company.
Of the six swimmers competing, four won medals in London – Shireen Sapiro, Achmat Hassiem, Hendri Herbst and Kevin Paul. Kevin trains under national swimming coach Graham Hill, who has trained Olympian Chad le Clos for 16 years.
Hassiem, also known as Sharkboy, lost his right leg from the knee down after a great white shark attacked him, and is a spokesperson for the conservation of endangered species. This is his third Paralympics. After the loss of his leg, Paralympian gold medalist Natalie du Toit visited him and suggested that he get into paralympic swimming.
‘I didn’t really know anything about disabled sport – it’s only once you are disabled that you realise how big it is and the opportunity it provides, and I thought, ‘OK, there is still hope’.’
‘The days when disability was a limiting factor are over. Today, if you set your mind to it and you want to achieve something, you can do whatever you want to do – you just need to want to do it,’ says Van Dyk, who was born in 1973 without legs. That did not stop him from playing sport and by the age of 17, he had earned his national colours for swimming.
Among Van Dyk’s many achievements is a record of 10 wheelchair titles in the Boston Marathon, and in 2006 he was named Sportsperson with a Disability of the Year at the Laureus World Sports Awards. He lives in Paarl with his wife Suzanne, two daughters, Lexi and Sunel, two dogs and his koi fish, and is a successful businessman whose e-company deals in Invacare’s Top End sport and leisure products.
For Van Dyk, one of his biggest personal accomplishments is being the first person with a disability to graduate with a degree in Sports Science from Stellenbosch University.
When asked whether he has any plans to retire from international competition, he smiles and replies: ‘There is a guy who is 55 and he still beats me sometimes …’
In 1982, at the age of 12, Zanele Situ from Matatile in the Eastern Cape became paralysed from her fourth vertebra down. It is thought that she contracted a tuberculosis infection. Her teacher in Mthatha then encouraged her to take up javelin.
At first she found performing in front of tens of thousands of people extrememly intimidating: ‘I just wanted to go home. But once I had my first throw and saw that it went over the yellow line for the world record, I felt much better!’
Over the next two weeks our new South African heroes will compete in para-athletics, aquatics, wheelchair tennis, cycling, shooting, rowing, canoeing, powerlifting, equestrian and archery.
Other heroes include running and long jump para-athlete Hilton Langenhoven, who has won three Paralympic gold and two silver medals. Fellow running and long jump para-athlete Mphumelelo Mhlongo is competing for the first time and currently completing a BSc in chemical engineering at the University of Cape Town.
Para-cyclist Roxanne Burns is a Sports Science graduate competing for the first time and completing a postgraduate diploma in education. Arnu Fourie has one Paralympic gold and one bronze medal to his name, and he is an ambassador for Jumping Kids.
‘We look forward to the team bringing home a lot of medals and showing the world what our new South African heroes are made of,’ says Badenhorst.
Nedbank’s sponsorship of sport for people with disabilities dates back to 1992 – the year that South Africa was readmitted to international sport competition – and includes sponsoring the South African Paralympic team and the Nedbank National Championships for the Physically Disabled.
This is the biggest multidisability and multisporting event for the physically disabled in South Africa, and a feeder system for the national Paralympic team. Nedbank’s long-term sponsorship for athletes with disabilities in South Africa has helped to create many new heroes who we can celebrate.