Zanele Situ
Paraplegic Hero
19 January 1971 - ?

Zanele SituZanele Situ was born in Matatile, Eastern Cape in 1971. She became paralysed in 1982 at the tender age of 12, from her fourth vertebra down after her spinal chord contracted a suspected TB infection. She was encouraged to take up javelin by her teacher in Umtata. Coming into the Paralympics, Situ had already set a new national record, having thrown a distance of 14,69m in Pretoria in March 2000.

In October 2000 Situ became the first black athlete to win a Paralympic gold medal - an accomplishment equal to that of Josiah Thugwane, who became South Africa's first black Olympic champion after winning the marathon in Atlanta in 1996. She bettered the previous Paralympic record by more than three metres, throwing 14.78m, to erase the previous best of 11.50m. At the same tournament she also added the discus silver to her collection.

Situ has been throwing the javelin since 1988. She said she had been intimidated by the 50 000-strong crowd at Stadium Australia and wanted to throw in the towel. “I just wanted to go home. But once I had my first throw and saw that it went over the yellow line for the world record, I felt much better."

Situ, who is the world champion, was in a class of her own, her effort accumulating 1287 points according to her T54 classification, beating Czech Martina Kniezkova whose 9,03m collected 1064 points for silver. Kniezkova is classified T53, which means that her disability is slightly worse than the South African's. Dora Elia Garcia of Mexico won the bronze with 12,48m as a T54 classified athlete that earned her 1047 points.

Of her ailment, she said she just started feeling weak one day and then shortly afterwards couldn’t walk anymore. She loves gospel music and spends most of her free time sewing at an Umtata rehabilitation centre.

She was a recipient of the National Order of Ikhamanga Award for Outstanding Achievement in 2003.

Copyright © zar.co.za January 2007