female winner: South Africa - Zanele Situ
Zanele Situ is representing South Africa , Gold Medalist, in Javelin Throw F54/55 classification. Zanele got TB at the age of 12 it affected her spine and became an wheelchair user. She did sports when she was able-bodied enjoyed and took it up again after becoming disabled. She was attending school in deep rural area with very few resources. Sports is something to which Zanele looks forward to. Due to the rural area not having extensive resources, Zanele effectively coached herself. In 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games, Zanele, South Africa's first athlete to compete, she broke the Javelin world record in F54 class, becoming the first black female with a disability who came from rural area of South Africa to win a medal for South Africa.
She became famous for a while until she returned back to her hometown (Umtata), had a quite life, and the fame receded. However, she continued to train independently. In preparation for Athens 2004 Paralympic Games, she moved to Johannesburg to train with a coach.
She lost her mother in early 2003 and put aside her training while mourning. She made a great return this year and reclaimed her place in South African team. She maintains her humility, good sense of humor and combines this with a desire to excel in sports.
It is difficult to imagine rural South Africa, living in rehabilitation center and Zanele coming from this background, she remains humble while seeking excellence. She inspires other by her achievement. She takes knocks in life as they invariably come but maintains her course. Zanele uses her sense of humor to bring people together.
male winner: Austria- Rainer Schmidt
Rainer Schmidt's interest in table tennis started in a small town in Austria while he was on vacation with his parents. "I was bored during the vacation because that was the only thing to do during our vacation" said Rainer. He was asked by other children to join them for a game of table tennis but he explained, "I can't because I could not hold on to the racket." However, they put their heads together and found a way to fasten the racket onto his arm, which gave him the means to play. This experience opened the doors and encouraged him to play more table tennis. When they returned home, Schmidt and his cousin joined a local athletics club where they were able to leisurely play. Schmidt was uneasy about how others would perceive him playing table tennis. Much to his surprise, no one at the athletics club had a problem with his disability. "But later on, when I realized that it was not a problem for everybody, then it was okay later" said Rainer. This experience gave him the means to see that he can overcome and is capable of more.
His motivation for his athletic career was the day his coach told him he could compete on an international level. He was driven to do his best and trained along with able-bodied athletes. Rainer was accepted to the national team and won a gold medal in Barcelona . He also won a regional tournament amongst able-bodied athletes.
This year in Athens (2004), Rainer Schmidt earned a silver medal in table tennis' men's individual (class 6) and a gold medal for men's team (class 6/7).
In addition to his athletic career, he is an author and a pastor. His most recent book entitled 'I'd Rather Have No Arms than Be a Poor Man.' In his book he explains that there is no difference between able bodied people and people with disabilities. There are only human beings with gifts and their limits. Each individual is unique on its own. He said, "I am a pastor and when I am on the podium, preaching is my job. But if my microphone is not working, I need an electrician to fix it. If my electrician has to do the preaching, he won't be able to because he is not a preacher. Then he would be handicap in preaching because preaching is not his gift. We are all disabled in one-way or another."