Beginning on Wednesday, 45 South African athletes will compete to try and match – or overtake – the 29 medals won at the 2012 event and chef de mission Leon Fleiser has put the “realistic” expectation at 20 medals.
While there are some concerns over whether the event will be held with the same pomp as its London 2012 counterpart, and some huff and puff over a change in some classifications, these men and women can only focus on the track, field and the pool and keep on doing what they do best.
We delved into the archives at paralympics.org to put together short profiles of the 6 amazing athletes who will be representing Team South Africa in Swimming at this year’s Paralympics.
Alani Ferreira was born with Stargardt’s disease, a condition that causes a gradual loss in central and colour vision.
Although she first started swimming at the age of four, her condition was only diagnosed when she was eight and she took up para swimming after doctors suggested it could help with her impairment. She is 18 years old.
Emily Gray competed at both the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games and has played wheelchair basketball at junior level. She lost her leg in 2003 after being diagnosed with cancer in her left femur.
Both 2008 and 2012 were a struggle in terms of Paralympic results – she finished outside of the top five in two of her chosen events in 2012 and failed to progress from the heats in two others. In 2008, she finished outside of the top 10.
Shireen Sapiro is a real medal hope for South Africa. She began swimming when she was nine years old and was a member of South Africa’s national junior able-bodied swimming team before a water skiing accident in 2004 left her left leg paralysed.
She won gold in 2008 in Beijing and bronze in London 2012.
Achmat Hassiem was inspired by Natalie du Toit to take up swimming when the two were studying together in 2007. He lost his leg in a shark attack and won bronze in the 100m butterfly at London 2012.
The accident that cost him his leg happened while he and his brother were training to be lifeguards. Achmat sacrificed himself in an attempt to save his brother, but he holds no grudges against the predators of the ocean. He works as a spokesman for the conservation of endangered shark species. He comes from a family filled with sporting pedigree – Aunt Faeeza Heuwel played netball for South Africa and brother Taariq competed in a number of lifesaving competitions.
Hendri Herbst was born partially blind and while he only started taking swimming seriously when he was about 15, he says he was “always a water loving child”.
He won bronze in the 100m freestyle at London 2012.
Kevin Paul was born with a condition called Poland Syndrome, which means he has missing muscles on the upper left side of his body.
He has been swimming since the age of three and counts Chad le Clos, Myles Brown and Calvin Justus as his training mates.