Meet the new Blade Runner: Ntando Mahlangu has sights set on Rio

10 April 2016 - 02:00 By JAN BORNMAN

Long before Ntando Mahlangu jetted off to Rio to win his first Paralympic medal, he spoke to the Sunday Times about his life and his dreams... This article was first published on 10 April.

There was only one thing Mahlangu ever wanted to do, and that was to run - and four years after taking his first steps on blades, he is eyeing a plane ticket to Rio later this year.

The 14-year-old is clear on what his one and only focus is - running.

Although he loves soccer and hockey, they are "just hobbies", as Ntando is intent on earning a place in the team that will be going to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in September for the Paralympics.

Ntando staked his claim for a place in the team after competing in the 400m for under-16s at the South Africa Junior Track and Field Championships in Germiston last Saturday. He won a bronze medal and set a new world record for disabled persons.

Although the world record did not count because it was at an able-bodied competition, Ntando improved the record - which he had set anyway - by three seconds. "I know I can do it again, so it doesn't bother me," he said after practice at Pilditch Stadium in Pretoria on Thursday. "I just want to keep on running."

Besides the record run in the 400m, Ntando and his teammates won gold in the 400m medley relay.

His coach, Cathy Landsberg, said they would remain focused on their goal in the run-up to the Paralympics in Rio.

"If he wants to go, he'll need to improve his time over the 200m with a second. So we have a goal to work towards and we'll stay focused on it."

However, there is no Paralympics 400m event in the T42 class in which Ntando competes, so they would look at other events, said Landsberg.

"If he doesn't make it into the team, it's not the end of the world. He is still young and has lots of time. For us it is important that he keeps enjoying what he does," she said.

Ntando's rise had been nothing short of amazing, Landsberg said, because four years ago he was still in a wheelchair.

Ntando was born with hemimelia, which means his legs didn't fully develop below the knees, and in 2012 the decision was made to amputate both at the knee. Months later, he was introduced to the charity organisation Jumping Kids, which assisted him with prosthetic legs - including a pair of blades similar to that worn by former Paralympian Oscar Pistorius.

Because his legs were amputated at the knee, Ntando has to swing his hips to propel himself forwards - which tires him quickly.

"It took me a week to learn to walk on them, and after two weeks I was able to run. I felt good when I was able to play soccer with my friends," he said. "It was lekker."

"I always wanted to run and I always believed I would be able to run one day. I was always positive with myself," he said. "I love running."

Soon he was competing in national competitions and in the past two years he has set a 400m world record officially and now last weekend unofficially , while holding the African records in the 100m, 200m, and unofficially in the 800m for his class.

Ntando is young and talented, and with these record runs, comparisons to Pistorius are inevitable, but he doesn't want that to get in the way of his goals.

Both Ntando and Landsberg said it was important to acknowledge what Pistorius did for the sport, but Ntando doesn't want to be the next Pistorius.

full_story_image_hleft1

"In fact, I have already met my mentor - Arnu Fourie. I was still fat and unfit when I met him and he told me to always believe in myself," he said, explaining he had met the Paralympian shortly after he started running.

After his record-breaking run last weekend and numerous interviews with the media, Ntando simply went back to school in Pretoria this week and played soccer with his friends. "They all joked and said they know a celebrity now. They all said: 'We know someone famous,'" he said.

But for Ntando, it's still all about running and every time he does so, he says a thank you to his grandmother, Paulinah Bangane, who has always supported him.

bornmanj@sundaytimes.co.za

X