Paralympians receive a hero’s welcome

From left, Charl du Toit, Maties Sport chief director Ilhaam Groenewald, and Ilse Hayes.

“We are proud of you” and “You inspire us”.

With these words supporters of local Paralympians welcomed their heroes at the Cape Town International Airport on Tuesday September 20, as they returned home from Rio – where 14 of South Africa’s 17 Paralympic medals were won by athletes from the Western Cape and 11 of those (five gold, three silver and three bronze) by members of the Maties Parasport Club.

Charl du Toit, who is studying towards an Honours degree in education management at Stellenbosch University (SU), returned to South Africa with two gold medals.

He is the new Paralympic champion in the 100m and 400m in the T37 class.

He also set a new world record in the 100m and a new Paralympic record in the 400m.

“It was an amazing experience and the people of Rio were fantastic. I’m very grateful,” he said on his return.

Dyan Buis, Du Toit’s training partner and also an honours student in the Faculty of Education, won gold in the 400m (T38) and bronze in the long jump.

The other Maties Parasport gold medal winners are the Paralympic veteran Ernst van Dyk and Reinhardt Hamman, who competed in his first Paralympic Games.

Van Dyk, an SU alumnus who competed in this seventh Paralympic Games, won the road race for handcyclists (H5) and finished sixth in the wheelchair marathon. Hamman won the javelin event in the T38 class.

According to Hamman this experience will stay with him for the rest of his life. He dedicated the medal to his dad who passed away earlier this year.

Well-known Stellenbosch athlete Ilse Hayes, who competed in her fourth and last Paralympic Games, won two silver medals (100m and 400m, T13). She has now won seven medals in four Paralympic Games – two gold, four silver and one bronze.

“It was amazing – my best experience at a Paralympic Games yet,” she said. Hayes’ training partner and roommate in Rio, Anruné Liebenberg, also won a silver medal – in the 400m (T47).

Liebenberg’s dad Rudi and brother Ruanne greeted her with a banner reading “Welcome back our champ”. “I’m so proud,” her dad said. “Not just of Anruné, but of all of them.”

The other bronze medal winners were Fanie van die Merwe in the 100m (T37) and Zanele Situ in the javelin (F54).

Van der Merwe, who will retire after this Paralymic Games, won a total of four Paralympic medals at three Paralympic Games (three gold and one bronze).

“What a privilege to end my career on such a high. I experienced so much joy.

“This whole experience was a gift from God,” Van der Merwe said after his race last week.

Du Toit, Buis, Hayes, Liebenberg, Van der Merwe and Arnu Fourie, who came fourth in the 100m (T44), are all coached by Dr Suzanne Ferreira from the Department of Sport Science at SU.

Ilhaam Groenewald, Chief Director: Maties Sport, was also at the airport to welcome the athletes.

She thanked them for being excellent ambassadors for South Africa and Maties Sport.