Olympic dream a reality for small-town athlete

Justine Palframan, a BSc sports science student, strides ahead.

When Stellenbosch University (SU) athlete Justine Palframan, 22, walks on to the athletics track at the Olympic Games in Rio, she will fulfil a dream that originated in the rural hamlet of Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal.

“I’m excited, I’m relieved, I’m very happy,” she said after her inclusion in the South African Olympic team was confirmed. “I can’t believe it is actually happening…”

Justine, a BSc Sports Science student and Stellenbosch Sport Ambassador (SSA), comes from an athletic family. Her parents Steve and Trevlyn Palframan met on the track and both represented their province in athletics.

When she was younger, someone told her parents that no top sportsman or woman will ever come out of a small town like Eshowe because they don’t have the facilities.

Justine is proof that this is not true. She overcame the lack of facilities by training on her school Eshowe High’s hockey field and her “against-the- odds” story is one of the main reasons she has agreed to become an SSA ambassador.

She believes many people don’t reach their full potential because the obstacles they are faced with seem unsurmountable and she hopes her story will inspire others to believe that anything is possible.

“I would like to say to them: I know you don’t have this, but you have that. You have to be inventive. It is possible to get to the top using what you have. It is not an excuse.”

She does, however, emphasise the importance of support.

“I have an athletic background and my dad coached me. Some people don’t have a coach or facilities – I at least had the coaching and support.”

In January 2013 Justine enrolled for a BSc Sports Science degree at SU, where she trains with her coach Mohamed Ally from Maties Athletics.

Not even four years later Justine is a seasoned athlete who has competed in world events on junior and senior level. She won gold in the 400m at the World Student Games in 2015 and was part of the 4×400 relay team who won gold at the African Senior Athletics Championships in June.

As part of her preparation for the Olympic Games, she spent a week training alongside friends and fellow athletes, Wayne van Niekerk and Akani Simbine, at the Racers Track Club in Jamaica, home of the famous sprinter, Usain Bolt.

She had to prove her fitness after struggling with injury. This injury prevented her from defending her national titles in the 200m and 400m at the South African national track and field championships in April this year.

“Having to withdraw from the SA Champs was very upsetting, but it was the right decision at the time. I wanted to run, I wanted to defend my titles, but looking forward it wasn’t worth the risk.”

She admits it is not always easy to look at the bigger picture. A coach plays an important role in this regard, as does experience.

Justine spent the weeks before the Olympic Games in Europe to train and prepare. This preparation and her participation in the Olympic Games mean that she is missing class. She has two more subjects to complete to graduate at the end of the year.

Balancing studies and sport is not easy, especially when you want to do well in both, she says. Hard work and a willingness to “put in the effort” is her advice for success. She doesn’t regret any of the sacrifices she has had to make to be able to compete at the highest level.

“It’s worth it,” she says.