Raising an Olympic champ

2012-05-11 10:48

Mandie Stander, Beverley van der Burgh, Sonto Mokoena and Lisbeth Matlou may all come from different backgrounds and provinces, but what they have in common is that they consider themselves their children’s biggest cheerleaders.

Raising a star athlete is a tough job.

But the mothers of long jump star Khotso Mokoena, Banyana Banyana striker Noko Matlou, mountain biker Burry Stander and swimmer Cameron van der Burgh have been there every step of the way.

“It’s such a blessing to see your child reach for the stars,” says Lisbeth.

“When Noko was a young girl, she used to prefer soccer over her house chores. Sometimes she’d miss meals because she was too busy playing soccer.”

Because her studies weren’t affected, Lisbeth wasn’t too bothered about her daughter’s interest in what was generally regarded as a boys’ sport.

“When I noticed that she was serious about it, I tried to find money to buy her soccer boots because she needed them, even though times were tough,” she adds.

Noko is now a regular in the Banyana Banyana line-up and is considered one of the team’s best strikers.

“The first time I saw her on TV, I was so proud and happy. My little girl was making her country proud through something she loves.”

Khotso Mokoena’s mother, Sonto, says jumping and competing are in Khotso’s blood.

“When he was five, he and his friends in the neighbourhood loved jumping over these huge concrete blocks on a construction site. The day I found out what was going on one was when he fell and broke his front teeth.”

Khotso came first in high jump and sprinting competitions throughout his school life.

“At first it was difficult to support his passion because I wasn’t employed. But that didn’t stop me from encouraging him. Thankfully, their school managed to get sponsorship for their sports gear,” she says.

Sonto watched from home when Khotso won the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

“I was all alone as his dad was at work. So I cheered, laughed and cried, all on my own. It was probably my proudest moment ever,” she adds.

Twenty-year-old Burry Stander’s passion for biking didn’t come as a surprise to his mother, Mandie.

“Burry has two older brothers and loves competing with them. So when he received his first bicycle, he threw it in the pool out of sheer frustration because it was too big for him and this meant he couldn’t keep up with his brothers. But he was determined to master it and soon enough he was everywhere on it.”

Mandie says she had no idea her son was a champion in the making until Olympic medal winner Christoph Sauser asked him to be his partner in a competition.

“My husband and I weren’t very happy about it because he was only 19 years old at the time, and didn’t have enough experience. The first year he entered, he managed to finish only two stages and had to pull out due to injury. Four years later, last year, the team won,” she says.

Mandie believes mothers should learn to let children find their paths in life, so when Burry chose mountain biking, she supported it.

“I’ve come to love watching the sport and make it a point to find out about the right diet. I can even change a tube if need be.”

Beverley van der Burgh is just as hands-on.

“When Cameron was young, attending his training sessions became part of my daily routine. I’ve learnt a lot about competitive swimming even though I can hardly swim myself,” says Beverley.

Cameron excelled in various sports, but it was when he came home with a note from a teacher saying that he was a talented swimmer that they decided to get him a coach.

Beverley’s proudest moment was when Cameron competed at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 in the national team alongside gold medallists Ryk Neethling and Roland Schoeman.

Beverley says: “This journey takes a lot of discipline and proper planning, especially if you’re determined to support your child’s sport. Seeing them happy and succeeding at what they do is the best feeling in the world.”

» To see what the athletes have to say about how their mothers inspired them, visit youtube.com/watch?v=NScs_qX2Okk

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