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  • Writer's pictureMosibodi Whitehead

Mahlangu's Paralympic success underlines why Jumping Kids needs continued support

In setting a new world record to win Paralympic gold on Saturday, Ntando Mahlangu underlined why it is important that organisations working to ensure mobility for all continue to receive both public and private support. The 19-year old double above knee amputee leapt to 7.17 meters to set a new global mark for T63 athletes in the long jump. But his gold medal which comes on the back of the silver he won in the 200m at #Rio2016, may never have happened if he hadn't met Michael Stevens and decided to amputate his legs.

"Johan Snyders asked me if I would mentor some of the double above-knee kids that he was working with," says Stevens when he tells the story of how the respected prosthetist and founder of Jumping Kids recruited him to join the non-profit organisation. "Sounded like an interesting proposition, so I went to meet them and the first youngster I met was a young man called Ntando. In a wheelchair, a very chubby but friendly young kid. Under-stimulated is what I would say," explains the man who lost both limbs after he was electrocuted by high-tension wires as a 12-year old.

Mahalngu wins his first Paralympic gold medal at #Tokyo2021 last than two months after he started training for the event. Photo Credit: SASCOC Media.

Because he had already walked his own prosthetic journey, Stevens was in the best position to advise the 10-year old Mahlangu who then made the bold decision to choose amputation as a mobility solution. "Within Jumping Kids, Johan and I have setup a clinic at Steve Biko Memorial Hospital where we deal with congenital birth defect issues. That's where we made the decisions with Ntando to go ahead with the amputation because that's what he wanted. He wanted to be more mobile and be more active and be involved with his friends. His goal was he loved football. So he wanted to play and he wanted to run," Stevens told #TheTopRunner.

Stevens (navy blue t-shirt) and Snyders (second from left) pose with Jumping Kids and a young Ntando Mahlangu (front) in April 2013 - a year after he received his first pair of blades. Photo Credit: Michael Stevens.

And run he did because within four short years the KwaMhlanga born athlete had won his first Paralympic medal and followed that up with gold in Tokyo made more amazing by the fact that he only started training for the long jump six weeks before ascending to the top of the podium. It's a lesson in the unlocked potential that lies in so many of South Africa's disabled kids, who have no access to the bank-breaking blades that could change their lives. Mahlangu for example was only afforded the opportunity to attended the prestigious Afrikaans Seuns Höerskool after this success in Rio.

Mahlangu in action against able-bodied athletes at the 2016 SA Junior Track and Field Championships in Germiston. Photo Credit: Roger Sedres.

That Jumping Kids continues to provide this service to many under-resourced families without charge, is only possible through the generous contributions of many South Africans. A prosthetic limb can cost in excess of R100 000 each, which means Snyders and Stevens must raise roughly R3 million a year to fund their programmes, much of which comes from the corporate social responsibility budgets or big business.

Ultimately for Stevens though, it's less about creating professional athletes than it is about the affording children the opportunity that a pair of blades provide. "if you had met Ntando when I met him, you don't look at him and think athlete. And I think that's the case with most kids, we don't know what the possibilities are and we limit them then by saying that child's disabled and isn't gonna do this. They're not as smart and need to go into a lower class for the education. We limit them rather than saying the opportunity is this and if we give it to you and you use it then anything is possible," he concluded.

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