By Mark Etheridge┬áin London
A career that has taken her around the globe a few times will come to an end here for Natalie du Toit two days before the end of the 2012 Paralympics.
Along with Oscar Pistorius, our most recognisable and rewarded Paralympian, Du Toit calls time on a fantastic career.
“This is it, this is not only my last Paralympics but my last competition,” 28-year-old Du Toit told Road to London 2012 on Sunday, three days before the opening ceremony.
“I’ve achieved everything I wanted and the last few years have just been an incredible strain on me psychologically. I’m not at liberty to go into the details right now but it hasn’t been at all easy.”
“So I’ve pretty much been staying in Italy for the last eight months or so, just popping back over to SA for nationals etc.”
Both an Olympian and Paralympian in 2008 on this occasion Du Toit only qualified for the Paralympic, just being pipped by Jessica Roux at world open water championships in Setubal in Portugal earlier this year. Roux was unable to complete the open water event at the Olympics.
As usual a glutton for punishment when it comes to competition, she’ll be our busiest swimmer in the Aquatics Centre come this week. “I’ve got a full house of seven events these Games and I’ll be swimming for seven of the 10 days,” she said.
Those magnificent seven will be the 50-metre freestyle, 100 butterfly, free, backstroke and breaststroke, the 200m Individual Medley and 400m freestyle.
She’s got a tough act to follow this time around, having won five golds in both Athens and Beijing. “I guess that’s the benchmark I’ve set myself,” she grinned. “I must say though that apart from the stuff I mentioned earlier, I just haven’t been swimming well for the last year or so, and am just going out there to do the best I can. I’ve also been doing a lot of marathon training so its hard to gauge exactly where I’m at.”
But in her favour is that the man who moved in alongside her on the bench outside Heritage House in the the Games Village, is a man who pretty much knows more about her than herself.
Aged 70 years, and a previous coach of hers, there’s not much that you can tell Karoly Toros about swimming. “I know this girl so well, and I can see that she’s coming back fast, back to the old Natalie,” he smiled.
“Well I am on the way back up and I’ve lost weight again, so we’ll just have to see,” she admitted.
Currently she has two Italian coaches overseeing her programmes, the two Fabio’s ÔÇô Cuzzani and Bonaccorsi.
The three events that, all being well, should be almost guaranteed to bring gold are the 100 fly, 400 free and 200 IM, with the rest being less predictable.
What’s life after swimming going to be about for Du Toit. “I honestly have no idea what I’m going to do yet,” she said candidly. “I’d like to go back and study. I did a year at UCT (Sports Science) but marathon training was taking six to eight hours out of my day at that stage, so that didn’t work out to well.”
Thankfully two of her most loyal sponsors, Vital and General Motors, are still with her for a while and she thanked national Olympic governing body SASCOC for her OPEX funding that has kept her going in the build-up to the Games. And then of course there are her close friends and family who have stuck with her through thick and thin.
Two souls that will probably be a lot happier to see more of her than was previously the case are her beloved two boxer dogs Binga and Rupert, currently living with her parents in Southfield, Cape Town.
Certainly during her career she’s rolled with the punches on more than enough occasions.. time to hang up her “gloves” and call time-out!