Last year Rikenette Steenkamp had to relearn how to walk properly… on Friday at the Varsity Athletics meeting in Potchefstroom she might just become the second South African female athlete to dip under 13 seconds in the 100-metre hurdles.
If she does, it will be one of the ultimate comebacks in South African athletics and go some way to prove that any setback can be overcome where there’s a will to do so.
Steenkamp is not someone who wants to commit to running specific times at a given meeting. She knows she has the ability to run a sub 13-sec race. It is simply a question of where and when it is going to happen. Maybe it will be Friday, or maybe it will happen a bit later in the year.
The one thing she has learnt over the last two years while she was unable to race, is that life is a journey.
‘I just want to enjoy the journey and make the most of all the experiences I have along the way,’ said Steenkamp, who was in matric in 2010 at Hoërskool Menlopark when she won the South African Junior and Senior titles in the 100m hurdles.
In 2014 in Marrakech she raced to a time of 13.16. Only five South African athletes have managed to run faster times. Corien Botha, who set a new South African record in 1998 as she ran 12.98, is the only local athlete so far to dip under 13 seconds.
Three weeks ago Steenkamp proved that she is in good form, when she raced to a time of 13.14 at a meeting at the University of Johannesburg. Unfortunately, the wind from behind was too strong for her time to be officially recognised.
But what was remarkable about her performance, is the fact that it was only her second race after a two-year absence from competitive racing. The past Saturday she improved her best time in the 100m by 0.40sec by running a time of 11.46.
In 2015 she certainly had a year of utter frustration. She was constantly in pain and barely able to train. Last year she found out that she had an extra bone in her ankle. Former Springbok lock, Bakkies Botha, had much the same problem. The only solution was to have the bone surgically removed.
As part of the rehabilitation process, Steenkamp was confined to bed-rest for six weeks, after which she had to relearn how to walk properly again. Swimming was the first proper exercise she was allowed to do. Only in September last year was she allowed to start doing athletics again.
Steenkamp admits there were times she really wondered whether she would ever be able to race again. ‘The one thing that kept me going, is that I feel I was born to run. There is also the matter of unfinished business on the track. I have certain definite goals I still want to achieve.’
She credits her recent fast times to her coach, Hennie Kriel (Tuks/HPC)
‘He is an amazing coach who knows how to get any athlete to believe in their ability, and he’s able to motivate us in setting high goals. He does not believe in mediocrity.
‘Being part of a training group which includes Gift Leotlela and Clarence Munyai (both Olympian sprinters), is also inspiring. As group we really tend to push each other to work that bit harder during every training session.’
Steenkamp is also busy with her master’s degree. Her theme is: ‘The need for leadership and role models in South African women’s sport’.
‘I honestly believe that as an athlete I have an obligation to leave a legacy behind for younger athletes. When I started out as a young athlete I sorely missed having a role model to inspire me. Once I have finished my career as a competitive athlete, I really want to get involved helping younger athletes, especially female athletes.
‘I want them to understand that if at first they don’t succeed, they should not get despondent. They should stick it out, as hard work and dedication does pay off,’ said Steenkamp.
Picture of Steenkamp courtesy of Reg Caldecott