“I am always late because people stop me for autographs and say hi.”
Du Toit is not your average athlete.
She is the kind of athlete who inspires other athletes.
Born in 1984, du Toit was a gifted swimmer. By the time she turned 14, she was making the right headlines and winning the right competitions to stay ahead of the curve.
Just when the spotlight was bright enough for her to be spotted for her athletic greatness, a tragic event crippled her destiny when she was 17 years old. Not the soul to let circumstances take control of her destiny, du Toit got back to training in the pool in just three months after her fatal accident that had led to the amputation of her left leg.
Most people would just wrap up, get up and leave. That is the end of their dream. Because in an athletic career, the slightest dislocation or an injury could mean the end of a career. However, for du Toit, even having no leg meant exploring other opportunities, whilst staying true to her primary goals.
For a swimmer, swimming with just one leg means a lot of cramps and exhausting the one leg. But she trained her only leg to take all the brunt, because her goals were too important to be subdued.
She trained her mind so well and perfectly that she ended up making history at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, by becoming the first athlete with a disability to qualify for the 800 m able-bodied freestyle final. Along with this, she also set the world record for multi-disability 50 m and 100 m freestyle. She deservedly took home the ‘Outstanding Athlete – David Nixon Award’ at the closing of the games.
“You have to work hard for what you want to achieve and you have to set your goals and dreams and really go for them.”
Du Toit says that it is not just the differently-abled people who need to work harder, but anyone with a desire to create something and achieve something must go out and fulfill, at any cost.
Du Toit had her parents to support her and cherish her dreams at her most trying times, showing that with the right partners, success is possible even when failure is all that can be seen.
There are trying times and then there are times that you just cannot overcome, and at such times it is important to hold yourself and not let go. The life-changing accident made du Toit realized the importance of staying strong.
That is why it was important for her to see that there was nothing in her that she lacked. She believed in her mind that she was just like everyone else.
She had discarded the fact that she was disabled and that was going to affect her dreams and the way she would be treated.
Her sheer ability to defy her physical state of being has rewarded her mind and body at times with strength and determination that would make her no less than able-bodied athletes. Such is the power of commitment and preparedness. It is about what you want to believe is good for you and what you believe is not good for you. If you believe that something is good for you and your well-being then you need to jump in with both your feet.
When things are done with half a heart, the results are not full. When you have the chance to inspire yourself, just do it. Don’t think about the consequences.
For du Toit what put her body at ease, despite the fact that she didn’t have her left leg, was the water itself. When she came in contact with the water in the pool, she would be healed. It was a miracle course for her. She became full. She became wholesome. Nothing could take her away from that. Not even her own amputated leg.
“The tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching your goals. The tragedy of life lies in not having goals to reach for” – a line from one of Benjamin Elijah Mays’ poems that keeps du Toit going at times when the world is too tough on her.
She hates the fact that people tend to see the fact she is disabled first and never really see the fact that she is a great athlete despite that. It is as if even if she had learned to accept her reality and learned to live as if she had no problem, new people who met her made her feel that something was wrong with her. She believes that when there are bad things happening to you, there is always a silver lining in the bad things. You just have to push yourself to see it. She has done it.
Retired in 2012 at the end of Summer Paralympics, du Toit is now a renowned motivational speaker where she shares the lessons she learned with business professionals and management students.
“I think I have achieved everything I wanted to.”