female winner: South Africa - Natalie Du Toit
Natalie started swimming when she was six years old. Her brother swims and through him, she learned to swim and got involved in competing. She played other sports but swimming was the main focus, which later led her to be an Olympic athlete. In 2001, she had a motorcycle accident and lost her leg. After the motorbike accident, she knew she wanted to continue my athletic carrier. The media got her story and through the media, the disabled sports communities encouraged her to carry on with my swimming career. While hospitalized, other disabled athletes visited her and told her that she could still continue to swim despite loosing her leg.
She said "I was fortunate to be able to carry on my swimming endeavors with the encouragement and support of many athletes in South Africa." She wrote a book about my story titled 'Natalie Du Toit Tumble Turn'. It is an inspirational book discussing how one chooses to be negative or chooses to be positive. I chose to be positive. During my rehabilitation I often referred to a saying that someone gave me - it has had major impact in my beliefs. "The tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching your goals. The tragedy of life lies in not having goals to reach for. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace not to have stars to reach for. Aim high, dream big dreams and never give up no matter what."
She does not like being in front of the camera for her sponsors. She prefers to work hands on, face to face with people. She tries to focus on little thing rather than big. She also visits hospitals in South Africa for people with amputation due to cancer. She quotes " My media attention in South Africa has given me the opportunity to inspire others with my story. I feel like I am put in a box. Being that I compete in both the Olympic and Paralympics Games I am often asked which one I prefer. It is not one or the other. It is about bringing my best efforts to every race. It is ultimately my race. It goes back to my goals and dreams. My ultimate goal is to encourage people with disabilities and at the same time bring positive awareness about disabled people.I target everybody, not just to the disabled people but able bodied as well. Tragedy can happen to anyone. You have to make to the best of your circumstance."
Something close to her heart in the South African private school called Vista Nova School. It is a school for children with cerebral palsy and learning disabilities. She started a fund raising event for the school. It is a 7.5km open water swim for the students. With the proceeds of this event we just built a new swimming pool for the school. she enjoys my work with the Vista Nova School where the outcome of the project goes directly to the children.
male winner: Panama - Said Gomez
Said lost his sight at a young age and as a result became afraid of society. Through sports and the aspiration to participate at the Paralympic Games, he managed to overcome many challenges. He describes it as follows "I managed to overcome many challenges in my professional life, at work, at home, and in relationship with others. I had to adapt myself to a life with a disability. Sports helped me relate better with the world."
Said got into sports while attending school where a professor encouraged him to get involved in sports. The professor coached him back then and still continues to be his coach. The professor taught him proper technique and trained me. In 1999 Said joined the 'No Sight Sports Association' in Panama. In the beginning of his sport career, he had many challenges. He quotes "I worked as a farmer. I woke up at four in the morning and work until seven at night. It was hard to raise money. My family did not have the economic means to support my sports aspirations. I worked a side job by selling lottery tickets to raise money." The NPC(National Paralympic Committee) was recently established in Panama in 2006. Prior to that he was been attending the Paralympics at his own expense.
Leading up to the Paralympics in Barcelona, Said's father used to hit him while he was training in preparation for the Barcelona Games. He reminds that his father was not supportive of his pursuit in sports and aspirations to be part of the Barcelona Games. Said carried on to train and was able to make it to the Barcelona Paralympic Games and ended up winning gold and silver medals. After the winning gold, His father showed fatherhood, which he explains "When I returned from the Barcelona, my father welcomed me and embraced me. This was a very special moment for me. I felt that my father was very proud of me. Whenever I go to another race in Panama, my father is very proud of me and tells everybody that I was his champion. My mother would remind my father the times when he used to hit his son."
Said have coached children with disabilities and able bodied in Panama free of charge - just for the love of sports. Most importantly, he likes to help people with disabilities so that they do not have to go through what he has gone through. He helps and mentors kids. Children in Panama look up to him, which some kids say they want to be just like him. He is happy being a role model to all children, especially those with disabilities. Said is currently a professor of Physical Education at a local university.