'I had this dream to go to the Olympics but God had this other plan' - Paralympian Anika Pretorius
"It starts with believing in your dreams - for yourself." These was Anika Pretorius' words when she spent some time motivating youngsters during a coaching clinic in Carltonville last week. The two-time Paralympian who grew up on Gauteng's West Rand and attended Laerskool Dagbreek had been invited by the Champions Athletics Club to share her inspirational message with the club's athletes and their parents, where she poured out her heart about what it takes to succeed - especially when you're from a small town.
"The real advice that I can give is that when the obstacles come don't give up, because it's really through the obstacles that we grow and learn and become the strongest," said the visually impaired long jumper and sprinter who had her first taste of the Paralympic Games in London 2012 as a 19 year old. And that journey from a small mining town to the biggest sports stage on earth all began with an obstacle because Anika only truly embraced athletics once she started to lose her eyesight.
"When I was younger in primary school I mostly enjoyed gymnastics. But when I started to lose most of my eyesight in Grade 7, running was one of the only things that I really had left. I used to do a lot of high jump and long jump as well, which was more my natural events. I got into sprinting because I had a good opportunity with a good coach in Potch. Running didn't come naturally for me at first," explained the PhD candidate who completed her schooling at Potchefstroom Gimnasium in the North West province.
That she ended up reaching the final of the 100 m T13 event at #Tokyo2021 where she took fifth place in a new personal best time of 12.33 is testament to her determination and unwillingness to give in to any challenge. "Running is a place where I can challenge myself. I really enjoy racing the most. Being at Tokyo was one of the greatest highlights of my athletics career so far. It was a childhood dream. When I still had my eyesight, I had this dream to go to the Olympic Games for gymnastics but God had this other plan. Becoming visually impaired was actually something that could make this dream come true," she reflected.
Striving towards one's dreams no matter the obstacles has been the philosophy that has guided the Stellenbosch University Graduate in all walks of life. The daughter of Dr. Cornu Pretorius obtained her Master of Science (MSc) Degree from Maties Cum Laude saying the lessons she learnt while achieving her dream of being a Paralympian applied in her academic career as well. This was the most important message she shared with the CAC athletes as they set their goals for 2022.
"For me it was really not a straight road to where I got, but the real thing is to see each obstacle as an opportunity to grow. I think that is the core of it. And trust in God. He has the bigger picture in mind even if we can only see a small part of it. He has the bigger picture," she concluded.