ANDHRA PRADESH

Natalie beats odds, competitors

HYDERABAD NOV. 1. Natalie du Toit, a South African national champion in the medley event in swimming and a gold medal winner at the Commonwealth swimming championships, was dealt a severe blow by destiny when she was just 17 -- she lost a leg in a road accident.

But she was soon back doing what she loved to do: engage in competitive swimming. Within three months of the accident, she finished fourth in the first event she took part along with regular swimmers. In the Afro-Asian Games that concluded here on Saturday, she won two silver medals — in the 800 metres freestyle individual event and in relay.

Natalie, now 19 and working towards a degree in genetics and physiology in Cape Town, believes that the real tragedy of life would lie in not having any goals. "Everything is possible if you believe in yourself and dream big," she says.

Natalie does not like to be treated as a disabled person, and her grit and determination to participate in the regular competitions and emerge a winner are remarkable. She gives the credit for having overcome her handicap, to swimming. "Swimming teaches one patience and it helped me recover quickly. Keeping fit is very essential for a handicapped person. I keep training and it keeps me motivated," she adds.

Showing her prosthetic leg made primarily of steel, which cost $30,000 (about Rs. 13.5 lakhs), she says: "I have three such legs and each can last 10 years." The Road Accident Fund in South Africa helped her acquire them. She does not need them for her swimming.

Natalie prefers to be treated like anyone else. "I am the person I was before the accident. My friends and my people treat me the way they used to treat me. I have a lot of fun with my friends as I did before," she says with a chuckle.

Her coach, Karoly Von Torbs, says a lot of hard work has gone into Natalie's successes. "That she won a medal doesn't surprise me and it was indeed tough to come back after her accident and it was an extraordinary feat. She will succeed in her future endeavours too as she trains very hard. When she came to me after the accident, I did tell her that for me she was like any of my other swimmers. She agreed with me, though she doesn't always," he teases her.

The coach recalls Natalie's frustration initially at her attempts to swim with one leg as "she kept swimming in circles". But soon she proved that physically challenged people could challenge others through the power of the mind. Her "turn" in fact improved after the accident and today she beats them all with her turn, taking advantage of her handicap.

Natalie is impressed by the standards, facilities and arrangements offered for the Games in Hyderabad. "The standards are better than what we have back home. The city is very beautiful and we went for a drive along Necklace Road the other day as we wanted ice cream. The drive was beautiful," she gushes.

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