By Mark Etheridge
Hard on the heels of a successful Olympic campaign, Team South Africa’s Paralympians have arrived in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and look to be well settled in the Athletes’ Village.
The team of 45 jetted into Rio via Sao Paulo and now have time to get their bearings in the village.
Said swimmer Achmat Hassiem: ‘It’s absolutely amazing… I mean, right now we’re standing next to the infinity pool, overlooking palm the trees!
‘So far facilities are looking great and now I’m just looking forward to share it with my teammates.’
His words were back up by his fellow 2012 Paralympic bronze medallist Hendri Herbst, a visually impaired swimmer who sadly had to leave his guide dog Sam at home on this occasion.
‘I’m very excited to be here… I get this whole nature vibe and the atmosphere is so laid back, I can hear all the waterworks and now I’m just excited to start racing.’
A third swimmer, ‘veteran’ Kevin Paul who is now heading into this third Paralympics and won silver in London four years ago, is just as excited. ‘With the Paralympics taking place once every four years you create a picture of what it’s going to be like, especially after the Olympic guys have been here already.
‘And once you get here it sinks in and you know that this what all the training and putting in that work in the pool and gym was for.
‘For my part it’s beyond explanation… the feel of nature and sound of water are very relaxing and now I’m ready to race.’
Paul was also quick to dispel any fears that the Paralympics may not be in the same league as the recently completed Olympics. ‘Well, you read in the media about this being a third-world country and the possible cutting of corners but it really isn’t like that in my opinion. Look at this infinity pool, the rooms are really comfortable and we’re being looked at so well… there are no worries at all.’
Also blown away by the whole experience was rower Lucy Perold, part of the Mix4LTA crew. It’s her first Paralympics and she was almost lost for words. ‘It’s just amazing, insane… so, so cool.
‘When the bus pulled up we could see the SA flags on the team’s building and we just opted to walk to the building because it’s so close to the Welcome Centre.
‘It’s huge, unbelievable and so much better to what we were expecting. Coach Marco [Galeone) had been telling me about it but this is just so mind-blowing. I’m so excited to be here and part of the experience.’