One of the special moments at this year’s University of Pretoria’s graduation ceremonies was when Michaela Whitebooi stepped on to the stage as an acknowledgement for having completed her BCom Financial Science degree.
Students are often told while studying that getting a degree is a life changer. Whitebooi’s story is the personification of just that. If somebody said to her 10 years ago that one day she’d become a university graduate, she would possibly not have believed it.
Growing up in Port Elizabeth, she didn’t have it easy. Her dad passed away when she was still young and her mom, Minnie, worked as a domestic worker.
‘When my dad passed away, my mom had to take over the roles of both parents. It was a challenge to her then, and it still is. She always does her best to provide for us. In spite of not having a proper job, she finds a way to put food on the table and manages to push through even when times are tough.’
The one thing that Whitebooi always had going for her is being a talented judoka. That changed her life. When she steps on to the judo mat, she does not fool around. There’s a job to be done, and she wants it done as quickly as possible.
Her feats did not go unnoticed. She was offered a bursary to complete her schooling at the TuksSport High School. Then, after finishing matric, she got offered a scholarship to study at Tuks.
‘If it were not for judo, I would probably have dropped out of school as a lot of my friends did. Where I grew up, gangsterism and drugs are a reality. So who knows how my life would have played out?
‘I love judo but with this love comes a great responsibility to work hard. For me, judo has always been a means to make something of my life. Through it, I got the opportunity to study and get a degree. From the start it was non-negotiable. I had to pass my studies.
‘I am now in the position wherein a year or two from now I will be able to provide for my family. Although I might not be able to give them the world, I will certainly make sure that their standard of living improves,’ said the Tuks judoka who is currently completing an honours degree.
Whitebooi has not given up on her dream to represent South Africa at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. She’s certainly talented enough to do so. She medalled in all three of the last international tournaments she competed in. Her most prominent frustration, however, is finding money to be able to compete internationally regularly.
To qualify for the Games, she needs to improve her international ranking drastically. The only way to do so is through international competitions.
Unelle Snyman is the other Tuks judoka to have graduated. She finished her BA Sport and Recreation Management (Sports Psychology) degree.
Photo: Snyman, left, and Whitebooi courtesy of Zander Erasmus