Conquering contradictions to become a national hero
Charl du Toit returned to South Africa after the 2016 Rio Paralympics as a national hero. A crowd of people eager to show their appreciation for the man who’d brought home the double gold welcomed him at the airport.
Standing before their applause, Du Toit understood what this meant to his fellow South Africans. The tears that broke his smile revealed how hard he’d worked for it. Born with cerebral palsy, Du Toit’s rise to athletic prowess has been remarkable.
The 24-year-old sprinter hails from Pretoria, where he matriculated from Hoërskool Akasia in 2011. Despite having one weaker leg and walking with a limp, he was set on testing himself through a career in athletics.
Du Toit moved to Stellenbosch the following year to train at the town’s university, which facilitates South Africa’s top para-athletic sprinting group. That same year he competed at the Paralympics in London, where he ran in the T37 category for athletes with a coordination impairment on one side of the body.
At that stage he was still transitioning from middle to sprint distance running under a new coach, Suzanne Ferreira. While the international outing didn’t produce any medals for the youngster, it inspired him to push harder than ever.
Du Toit’s improvement since then has been rapid. He claimed bronze in both the 400m and 800m races at the IPC World Athletics Championships in 2013 and silver in the 100m sprint at the Commonwealth Games a year later.
He earned another second place at the World Championships in 2015, this time in the 400m final, showing his progression towards and desire for top honours. Then, finally it came. In 2016, four years after his first attempt at Paralympic glory, Du Toit flew over the line for gold in both the 100m and 400m events in Rio, setting a new world record during the heats of the former.
This on top of an injury six weeks before which threatened his ability to run at all. On the back of two more World Championship wins this year in the 200m and 400m finals, Du Toit’s mind is set on the future, and more Paralympic gold at Tokyo 2020.
• This article was originally published in the Beautiful News SA.