Triathleteinspired to greater heights

Mari Rabie is representing South Africa in the Olympic Games in the triathlon for the second time, after her bike broke during the games eight years ago.

Sport is fickle. Triathlon athlete Mari Rabie, 29, knows this from experience. Something completely out of your control can sabotage your efforts and undo years of hand work. She knows this too.

When Mari returned from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing she was bitter. The disappointment of a 43rd place in the competition after her bicycle broke down was so big that she decided to rather concentrate on something else – her studies.

Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine that eight years later she would be on her way to another Olympic Games to represent South Africa in the triathlon again.

In the meantime, however, she was awarded the Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University, and in the past few years she has obtained her Masters in Applied Statistics at Maties, as well as an MBA degree.

Mari’s story starts in Stellenbosch, and it is because of this story that she has agreed to become part of the Stellenbosch Sport Ambassador (SSA) programme. Her grandparents studied at Stellenbosch University, and her parents both grew up in Stellenbosch, and Mari was a pupil at Eikestad Primary and Bloemhof Girls’ High School.

“I am very passionate about Stellenbosch. The town contributed a great deal to where I am today. I don’t know whether I would be going to Rio if I hadn’t grown up here with all the opportunities and support that I have received.

“Stellenbosch could be a town of excellence. I don’t think the children at school always realise how many opportunities there are in Stellenbosch.”

Mari joined Maties Swimming Club when she was six years old. She also took part in long-distance running on the track when she was at school. She only started focusing on triathlon after school.

She qualified for the Commonwealth Games in 2006 and the Olympic Games in 2008 – and had very bad experiences at both events.

She fell ill at the Commonwealth Games and had to leave the competition in an ambulance, while technical problems affected her performance in Beijing.

“I was bitter after Beijing. In sport your highs are so much higher than in real life and your lows so much lower. But, after a while you get to a point where you can say: If it hadn’t been for Beijing I wouldn’t have applied for the Rhodes scholarship… You start looking beyond the pain and you learn how to deal with disappointment.”

In 2012 she decided try again, but soon afterwards she was faced with another challenge and disappointment: In 2014 she was diagnosed with myocarditis – she injured her heart muscle – and the only answer was no training for almost a year.

“It was difficult for me and I considered giving up my dream and to start working full time, but in my head I had committed myself until the end of 2016,” she says.

When she eventually started training again she was under great pressure to qualify for the Olympic Games. Between March and May this year she participated in seven competitions in six different countries on four different continents in the space of 10 weeks.

Mari’s goal, after she came eighth in a recent World Triathlon Series event, is to finish in the top 10 at the Olympic Games.

And then? “My coach is retiring soon and I feel that I have studied hard – I would like to start focusing on my career. I still have to complete my actuarial exams.”

She hasn’t been idle the past few years though – she works for Remgro on a part-time basis and started

the athleisure active-wear range “MovePretty” with a friend, Annelize Kotze.

Although she has reached the end of her athletics career, she hopes to be a role model for local young sport stars, and that they will learn from her experience.

* The Stellenbosch Sport Ambassadors programme aims to empower local athletes on their journey of excellence.

Their empowerment will in turn market Stellenbosch as a town of excellence and inspire the immediate community.

The programme is a working partnership between the Stellenbosch Municipality, the Stellenbosch Academy of Sport and Maties Sport. Like the Stellenbosch Sport Ambassadors page on Facebook or follow them on Twitter at @SboschSA.