Natalie Du Toit Makes Olympic History

South Africa’s Natalie Du Toit reached her personal goal of participating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and carved her place in history at the same time, as the very first amputee to compete at an Olympic Games event. This talented swimmer took 16th place in a field of 25 competitors in the 10 kilometer open water race, which took competitors just under two hours to complete. Natalie has steadfastly refused to allow the fact that her left leg had been amputated hold her back in any way, and her sheer determination, positive attitude and strength of spirit has won her a following of fans.

Swimming at an Olympics Games event has always been a goal for Natalie. She narrowly missed qualifying for the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and was determined to qualify for the 2004 Athens Olympics, but in 2001, following a motorcycle accident, Natalie’s injured leg turned gangrenous and had to be amputated at the knee. Many may have seen this as the end of her Olympic dreams, but three months after losing her leg this strong-minded young woman was back in the water doing what she loved best – swimming.

Natalie admits that it has been a long road which has taken an incredible amount of determination and hard work. She is rightfully proud of her achievement and feels that she earned her place at the Olympics on merit, which has nothing to do with whether she is disabled or able-bodied.

This is the first year that the 10 kilometer open water marathon has been included in the Olympic Games and Natalie chose to train with this race as her goal. She felt that she was more suited to this long-distance open water race because there is less emphasis on the start and there are no tumble turns to deal with, both of which may have put her at a disadvantage. The open water event may have leveled the playing field a little for Natalie, but she was nevertheless up against some stiff competition and gave an impressive performance.

Natalie was thrilled with having had the opportunity to compete in an able-bodied race at the Beijing Olympics, but admits that, having set a personal goal to be placed in the top five, she was a little disappointed in her performance which saw her finishing 1 minute 22.2 seconds behind Russian gold medalist, Larisa Ilchenko. She is looking forward to challenging herself once again at next month’s Paralympics.

Although in demand as a motivational speaker, Natalie does not consider herself a campaigner for athletes with physical disabilities. She has her personal dreams and strives for her personal goals – and she encourages and inspires others to do the same.