WORLD-renowned disabled swimmer Natalie du Toit may have accumulated 13 Paralympic gold medals in her impressive career, but the star athlete has set her sights on a new life with fresh challenges.
After retiring as a professional swimmer following the London Paralympic Games earlier this year, Du Toit set out on a mission to do things she has never done before while deciding on her future.
"I have no idea (what I am going to next)," she said. "I’ve been doing crazy things in the last few months, such as the 94.7 cycle race and I tried a car race, as well.
"In the past I was too scared I’d break an arm or a leg, so I couldn’t participate in such activities. I still have to find my path in life.
"The past few years, and particularly the last few months, have been really tough, so it is now a case of finding myself again and getting through the dip I have been through to get on top again."
While she has opted to stay out of the swimming pool — a place where she has spent a large part of her life since her teenage years — Du Toit said the last goal she had set for herself was to run — something most people take for granted. "I know it will be tough because I don’t have the knee joints (her left leg was amputated), so I need to find out how to run and I have to find a suitable leg to run with, which will be a challenge.…
"I have already achieved two of my dreams: one was to go the Olympic Games and the other was to go to the Kruger National Park, so the third is to learn to run."
While Du Toit makes no secret of the fact that she might return to swimming in a new role in the next few years, she has ruled out the possibility of coaching.
"I have never coached and I have never wanted to be a coach," she said. "I have knowledge of training programmes that I could maybe pass on, but I definitely won’t coach.
"For now, however, I want to focus on something that is not swimming or sport related, and something that will be good for me.
"Maybe in a year or two I will come back and get involved again."
Interestingly Du Toit revealed that had she not made a promise to someone to see through the Paralympics in London, she would never have participated.
"I don’t think it will ever settle in (what I have achieved)," she said. "In life one goes through trials and tribulations and all that hard work that you put in delivers the benefits. From that perspective my team worked very hard and I owe a lot to them. I promised someone less than four months before the Paralympics that I would finish. But if it wasn’t for that promise I would have not have participated in the Paralympics. It is those people I have to thank."
Asked what she believed was the secret to success, Du Toit said: "I think sticking to one’s values is vital to success. This includes hard work, team work, respect and empathy.
"One cannot achieve success on your own and I would never have been able to do it alone. Mentally I am not the toughest person, but each person in my team played their part, which helped."