Stellenbosch University student Ruhan van Rooyen of Blouberg is on track to qualify for the 2015 IPC Athletics World Championships in Doha, Qatar.
Despite being born with paraplegia in his lower left foot and arm, 19-year-old Van Rooyen has clocked some impressive times on the track.
Currently ranked fourth in South Africa for both the 100 and 200-metre T37 events, Van Rooyen ran in the open 100m and 200m events clocking a personal best of 12.28sec for the 100m at the recent Western Province qualifiers at Coetzenburg, Stellenbosch.
At the 2013 National Championships in Pretoria, Van Rooyen completed the 200m in 25.69, his personal best to date. Van Rooyen adds: ‘When I crossed the 100m finish line I didn’t realise it was a personal best. I felt upset because I thought I could’ve started the race better in Coetzenburg.’
Van Rooyen recalls: ‘Both these times where A-Qualification Standards, according to the IPC’s standards, to go to the World Championships.’
However, being a junior competitor at the time, Van Rooyen was ineligible to compete at the 2013 World Championships in Lyon, France. In consolation he received the Junior Sportsperson of the Year award at the closing ceremony in recognition of his outstanding results.
Being born with a disability can be trying at times, says Van Rooyen: ‘My greatest challenge to date has probably been living up to the standards that I set at the National Championships in 2013. My performance created a lot of expectation, including from myself. I told myself I could do well internationally.’
Van Rooyen adds: ‘The lowest point in my career was not being selected for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. I really thought I had a good chance to at least get to the finals. Looking at the times I probably could’ve done well in the finals as well, albeit not a medal, but it would have been my first international meeting.’
While Van Rooyen loves to play cricket, rugby and tennis, he decided not to focus his talents on these sports. ‘I would say to anyone with a similar disability to create a niche for themselves by doing what they excel in – choice is a bit more limited than usual.’
Van Rooyen adds: ‘Sometimes it frustrates me because I’m someone who likes things to be perfect and work smoothly.’
Finding the balance of a promising career in athletics and coping with a demanding study schedule is a unique challenge to Van Rooyen: ‘Both are important and committing 100% to one only would mean letting the other aspect of my life slack. Being in my first year of my B.Comm accounting degree means that I’m really busy and my athletics hasn’t been at the forefront most of the time.’
Van Rooyen continues: ‘I recently joined a new coach, Heinrich Fortuin and we’ve started following a special programme. I’d love to be on a diet, but because I’m in university residence, I don’t really have that luxury.’
On track Van Rooyen considers Usain Bolt to be his role model. Day to day he looks up to his dad, his brother, rugby player Willie le Roux and businessman Steve Jobs. Van Rooyen says ‘I love playing sports with my friends, going for a cycle and watching sports on TV. I also love going to Newlands to watch rugby or cricket.’
Picture credit: Reinhardt Hamman