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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK

Swimming through the pain barrier

By Matt Majendie
BBC Sport Online

The 15-year-old Natalie du Toit showed impressive potential when she qualified for the 1998 Commonwealth Games, despite not bothering the major protagonists in the pool.

Four years on, the South African looks on course to live up to that early potential as one of the contenders for gold in the 50m and 100m freestyle.

But, this time in Manchester she will be competing against disabled athletes after losing her leg in a horrific motorbike accident last year.

On Monday, 27 February, 2001, Du Toit was travelling to school from a swimming training session when she was injured.

She remembered: "It didn't take the leg off, it was more like it is when you drop a tomato from a great height. Everything was just obliterated."

Du Toit, who was conscious throughout the ordeal, feared that her career was over.

"It was quite a shock to find that I suddenly didn't have my leg but I decided I wanted to get back to swimming"
Natalie du Toit

Despite a week-long effort by doctors to save her damaged limb, the leg had to be amputated.

"I knew the operation was going to happen because, although I was sedated, I could hear people around me," she continued.

"But when I came round the first thing I said to my parents was 'when is the operation' and they told me it had already happened."

She was also left with a titanium plate in her leg, a skin graft and severely damaged nerve endings.

But her goal was immediately clear.

She said: "It was quite a shock to find that I suddenly didn't have my leg but I decided I wanted to get out of the hospital, which I did within a few days, get back to walking and, of course, swimming."

"I want to win a medal for myself but it would be great for all those people who have helped me get back into the pool"
Natalie du Toit

That happened with almost immediate effect.

She returned to training in May of last year, which she admits was "excruciatingly painful" and this summer's Games will be her first ever competition as a disabled athlete.

However, the tragic accident has not left the teenager at all bitter.

She said: "I put it down to faith - things happen for a reason. And, as it happens, this has opened other doors for me.

"It hasn't stopped what is my life, and that is swimming."

Aside from her "incredible, but stubborn determination", according to her coach Karoly von Toros, she insists the support from her family and the South African public at large gave her the boost she needed.

And the Games for her is the "time to repay that".

"I want to win a medal for myself but it would be great for all those people who have helped me get back into the pool," she added.

Obstacles such as rivals in the pool do not seem to be a consideration.


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