When I think of Natalie du Toit, I cannot help feeling a surge of inspiration. Don’t know who my ‘inspiration’ is? Well, let me tell you the story of this courageous woman, whose determination will leave you astonished.
Who is Natalie du Toit?
Natalie du Toit is a South African swimmer. Great, but what is so special about her? She is a Paralympic and Commonwealth Games Gold medalist.
Despite missing a limb, Natalie is ranked amongst the fastest distance swimmers in the world. Natalie has won gold in 2002, 2004, and 2010 Commonwealth Games and at 2004, 2008, and 2012 Paralympic Games.
She is one of the two Paralympians to compete in 2008 Olympic Games. She is the third amputee to ever qualify for Olympics.
What in the world happened to her?
Natalie started competing in international swimming competitions at the age of 14. In February 2001, at the age of 17, her left leg was amputated at the knee after she was hit by a car while riding a scooter.
Three months later, before she could even walk again, Du Toit was back in the pool preparing for 2002 Commonwealth Games. Her first workout left her exhausted just after 25 meters, but her determination didn’t deter. “I just wanted to see what would happen,” Du Toit said.
An 18-year old Du Toit won both the multi-disability 50 m freestyle and the multi-disability 100 m freestyle in world record time, at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Natalie chose to swim without the help of a prostate.
The rise of the one-legged mermaid
The accident could have ended her swimming career completely, but Natalie wasn’t one to bow down to defeat. During the 2002 Commonwealth Game, she even went on to qualify for the finals of 800m freestyle swimming event and became the first amputee in the history, to race the finals of an international able-bodied swimming competition.
At the end of the games, she was presented with the first David Dixon Award for outstanding Athlete of the Year. But that was just the starting of her golden career. Her biggest dream was to compete in the Olympic Games. She then started preparing for the 2004 Olympics.
Though she missed qualifying for the Athens Olympics held in 2004, but Paralympics, she brought home five gold medals and one silver medal. There was no looking back for Natalie after this. At the 2006 Commonwealth Games, she repeated. She won two gold medals.
3 May 2008, Du Toit qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, becoming the third amputee to do so. She also took part in the 2008 Summer Paralympics, winning five gold medals. She was also Olympics flag bearer for her nation, becoming the first athlete to carry a flag in both Olympics and Paralympics in a single year.
The swan song
Before 2012, London Paralympic Games, Natalie announced she will retire at the end of the event. She ended her career with one last gold medal.
These days Du Toit has traded her swim suit for a business suit as she works for Vuma Reputation Management, Johannesburg, as a management consultant.