Breaking all barriers to soar ahead

2012-10-12 00:00

SIZWE Ndlovu is Zululand’s biggest export to the Olympics, having been the first black rower to win gold at the Olympic Games.

Ndlovu was part of the gold medal winning lightweight coxless four, along with team-mates James Thompson, Matthew Brittain and John Smith.

The 32-year-old, who grew up in Newcastle, comes from a childhood all too common in South Africa. Now, he intends to use his fame and success and target children from rural and township schools on the importance of self-belief.

Ndlovu lost both his parents in the last decade, which he said affected his ability to qualify for the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games.

So standing on the podium and accepting gold for South Africa was a moment he said would remain with him for life.

“To see out flag raised, to hear the anthem … it was an amazing experience. We had trained hard and planned well. We had spent time analysing our competitors, working on small details and pushing ourselves.

“On race day, we knew we needed to stay with the leaders in the 2 000-metre race. It was at halfway that we started to make our move and maintain our rhythm.

“In this sport, like all others, you can lead for the entire race, but it is crossing the line first that counts,” said Ndlovu.

Ndlovu started rowing after he moved to Johannesburg in 1995 and started attending Mondeor High School.

“When I schooled in Newcastle, all we had was athletics, traditional dancing and the choir.

“The place I taught myself to swim was at a nearby filthy dam, so when I got to Mondeor, I went straight to a sport I knew very little about — waterpolo. However, in 1997, I was told waterpolo players must join the school swimming team, so to avoid that I joined the rowing team and I haven’t looked back since,” said Ndlovu.

His career speaks for itself.

In 2002, he was a silver medallist in the under-23 World Championships in Italy and thereafter competed in every world championship from 2003 to 2011, travelling to countries as diverse as Japan to Switzerland.

“Right now I am doing a lot of corporate events. There isn’t any money or funding in South African rowing, so along with my team-mates we are heading across the country, capitalising on our newfound fame, and trying to secure a future for this sport in order for us to compete in Rio in 2016. This is not a cheap sport, with our craft costing in the range of R200 000 and above that, we still have travel and living costs,” said Ndlovu.

But what is the long-term plan for South Africa’s new darling of rowing?

“It is great to talk to schools that have rowing teams, but my passion is targeting the youngsters from schools that have very little to offer. The key point I want to put across is that we must use what life throws at us to our advantage.

“There is no doubt that my years of walking 20 kilometres a day to school and back and fetching water in wheelbarrows gave me the strength that I needed to compete in this sport. If I had life again, I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Ndlovu.

He said he would love to start a sports academy and is in the process of looking for potential funders.

“I just want to reaffirm to particularly the black youth who come from poor backgrounds with very little resources that they can achieve a lot in life and can be the best, provided they put in the hours, the sacrifice and look towards their strengths, not their obstacles,” said Ndlovu.

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