Swimming gold medalist honoured

2016-03-02 06:00
At the pool renaming (from left) Penny Heyns, Bheki Ntuli (Department of Education district   director) and Louise  Lemmer (principal). Photo: NEIL JONKER

At the pool renaming (from left) Penny Heyns, Bheki Ntuli (Department of Education district director) and Louise Lemmer (principal). Photo: NEIL JONKER

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IF there is something gold medallist Penny Heyns learnt in life, it is that “nothing comes without labour”.

“It is also the motto of Amanzimtoti High School. I also believe we are all a product of people who surround us. I came to this school and under the influence of many teachers, Mrs Lemmer and others, laid a good foundation for me. I always came back to the school through the years,” said Heyns at the renaming of the Amanzimtoti High School pool in her name, on Friday.

“I am very proud to have gone to Amanzimtoti High. I learnt diligence and having to work hard, also under my parent’s influence. I learnt how to make a difference in the life of others and to use my experience as a platform to do so,” Heyns said.

Heyns’s top achievements include Greatest Female Breaststroker of the 20th century; double Olympic gold medallist in Atlanta in 1996, Olympic bronze medalist in Sydney in 2000 and 14 times world record breaker.

Heyns says the secret of her success lies in never setting long-term goals.
“I set Olympics as my [immediate] goal and then aimed for it. I just wanted to retire knowing I did my absolute best. That goal kept me in the water, even in tough times. The idea of when you stand before your Maker, you can say you did your best with the talent you received, also inspired me.”

Her advice to aspiring medallists is to set goals, and make sure they are challenging, but realistic.
“Goals should be stepping stones, achieved step by step. Understand that failure is not your enemy, but your friend and as with all things in life, patience pays off.”

In her welcoming speech, Principal Louise Lemmer said Heyns always had great admiration for Nelson Mandela and was fortunate to receive a personal phone call from him.
“Penny started her high school career in 1988. She was serious, but involved in school and unassuming over all her achievements. She made the school pool her playground and was determined to break records.
“She was an exemplary leader always putting others before herself. Toti­ High will always be proud of you and proud of your footprints still here,” Lemmer said.

Heyns settled in Pretoria after her retirement in 2001.
“It is better than Johannesburg and easier to access the airport, and I love the bushveld,” she says.

These days she does not practice officially as a coach, but with her business partner and friend Zelda van Vuuren­, they travel around the country to the clubs, assisting swimmers with stroke correction and technique, as well as being involved in corporate mental power workshops and inspirational talks.

“I finished matric in 1992. I was head girl and went to Barcelona later that year. It was also the same year when major changes occurred in our country. On my return, Mrs Moore decided that I must go to mostly Indian schools and talk to them about Toti High and Barcelona. It laid the foundation for me as a speaker. In South Africa then there was no training to be a motivational speaker as such,” she said.

Throughout her swimming career Heyns had to overcome obstacles, but one of her biggest challenges was when she retired.

“There is certain trauma to success. The higher you achieve, the more difficult it is to return to normal life. A change in a career is always an adjustment.
“Michael Phelps recently had an open interview discussing the challenges of recovering from a high level of competing and the frequent adrenalin rush to ‘normal’ life.”

After the Amanzimtoti High head boy and head girl declared the Penny Heyns Pool officially opened, Lemmer concluded with a quote Heyns is famous­ for - “Whatever we do, we have to swim our own race.”

“Those words underline who you are, continue to swim your own race and leave your footprints.”

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