By Mark Etheridge
Just two days out from the 2016 Paralympic Games opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the Team SA athletes are getting on track with preparations.
Said track and field coach, Suzanne Ferreira: ”Rio has been a pleasant surprise so far. The village is absolutely great. It was also awesome to see some of our old friends from other countries as well.
‘The welcoming ceremony was a good reminder of the privilege we have to be here and united as a “sport family” in one village. The team spirit is excellent as always.
‘We got the travel fatigue out of the athletes bodies with an easy session on Saturday and on Sunday the sprinters bodies responded with a great session. All are excited.
One of Ferreira’s athletes, Fanie van der Merwe, is competing in his third Olympics and the T37 2008 and 2012 track gold medallist is preparing for his final Paralympics, having already wrapped up his career on South African soil.
‘I’m really exited about Rio, Team SA has a great spirit going, and I’m thankful to be here! I’m exited for what lies ahead and training is also going well here! I love the people here.’
And his Paralympic gold medal colleague from Stellenbosch, Ilse Hayes, a sprinter in the T13 category, is another Team SA athlete in high spirits. ‘Wow, what a cool village. My view from my bed is the most amazing rolling hills. The village is bustling full of excited athletes ready to compete.
‘It was also good to see all my friends from around the world who I’ve met over the years.
‘And I just realise that this is what it’s all about….building relationships and inspiring others. I’m very happy and privileged to be at my fourth Paralympics and super excited to shine God’s light on the track.
‘Its a young team here with .many new faces but I’m enjoying getting to know everyone better and some of them have lovely spirit so I’m having a lot of fun.’
As far as the business side of things, and Hayes is happy. ‘Prep is going really well. I’m feeling strong and confident. Now I just have to stay focused on what is important.
‘I live by the motto of challenging myself to be the best version of myself everyday so that’s what I want to achieve here in Rio.
‘To be a better version than four years ago… on and off the track. And also physically, mentally, and most importantly, spiritually.
‘I want to run limitlessly for God and experience His presence every step of the way.’