Long-time Laureus Ambassador, Paralympian, Olympian and national treasure, Natalie du Toit, is in the spotlight as our first MVP. Three months after losing her leg after being hit by a car at age 17, Natalie got back in the pool to train for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, where she swam her way to gold, and into the hearts of South Africans and the world. Natalie became the third amputee ever to qualify for the Olympic Games, and was one of two Paralympians to compete at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. We asked her a few questions to see what makes this legend tick…
1. Who did you look up to as a youngster?
My memories of aspiring sports stars take me back to my teens. Face-to-face exposure to older and wiser athletes, coupled with the support of my coach, family and swimming team, allowed me to dream. I didn’t grow up with social media and only got a computer in my last year of school, so personal interaction with influential role-players had a positive effect in my life.
I looked up to swimming great Marianne Kriel and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interact with her. She trained on the opposite side of the Newlands swimming pool in Cape Town with a sprint group coached by Clara Aurik. Marianne was humble, open and hardworking, which inspired me to be my best. My other inspiration and someone my coach always spoke of, was Hungarian swimmer, Krisztina Egerszegi – she swam the same events that I was focusing on, yet she had talent beyond anything imaginable.
I have had many other role models throughout my career, and each one brought something special to make a difference in m life. It’s so important to have a mentor in every aspect of your life – whether sport, personal or business.
2. If you could choose 4 people to have at your dinner table who would it be?
I love giving an unconventional answer to this question, as it shows that no matter what we have achieved, where we are in our careers, who we are or where we are from, we might have a few things in common.
The four people I would like to share dinner with would be:
1. Someone who can reassure me or tell me the honest truth as to ‘if’ I have the abilities and the strengths to keep doing what I am doing, as it is not always something that I believe I am progressing in.
2. Someone who would help with simplifying each wish and dream in order to start somewhere and ultimately end up somewhere.
3. Someone I can learn from allowing me to grow through interacting and sharing.
4. Someone who could open up opportunities for me to have the opportunity to prove myself.
3. If you were a super hero who would you be:
Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. Her knowledge is her power, and the team work of the group of friends brings about success. She is not scared to try things and is often ridiculed for being herself and not quite fitting in.
4. What motivates you?
I am often motivated by the fact that so many odds are stacked against me. I have asked a number of top athletes the same question, and many of them have shared that they are motivated by the idea that people don’t believe in them. Sometimes it is all the negatives that create the positive moments.
Motivation can also be derived from the handful of people willing to go that extra mile for you.
Ultimately, motivation is the journey of struggling through thick and thin and not giving up until your goal is realized – no matter how big or small.
5. Choose 3 words that would best describe you:
Those who know me will say I am stubborn, passionate and hardworking. Those who know me well may tell you I can sometimes be negative.
6. What would you consider your greatest sporting achievement in life so far:
The pinnacle of my career was the day I finally qualified for the Olympic Games at age 24 in the 10km open water event in Seville, Spain. I have dreamed about that moment since I was 6 years old, and we finally made it after years of training and hard work, and facing many challenges and obstacles. So often it’s not about the greatest achievement, but the journey one had to take to finally achieve that moment for so many years.
7. Your favourite Laureus highlight?
There are two standout moments for me:
1. The opportunity to play a dual role within Laureus – as an Ambassador here in SA, while also being nominated for a Laureus Award. The concept of inspiring by doing is so important for my team and I.
2. The the opportunity to become vulnerable in the eyes of those on the ground – albeit the kids benefitting from a project or the coach teaching those children. Vulnerability needn’t be negative, but rather an opportunity to become a part of the team and showing that anything is possible.