Midlands’ new golden boy

2013-07-18 00:00

SOUTH Africa has a new amputee star, and he’s a schoolboy in the Midlands.

Last year, Hilton College’s James Bezuidenhout (16) was meant to compete at the Paralympics in London, but a budget cut led to the team sent over being whittled down.

But that hasn’t stopped the teenager from going after his dreams.

James, who is originally from Johannesburg, recently returned from the Jimi Flowers Classic in Colorado Springs, U.S., with six gold medals.

On his way to achieving this feat, he beat swimmers who were older than him, and who also took part in last year’s Paralympics.

“I was very chuffed about that,” the swimmer told The Witness yesterday.

The medals were in the 200 m individual medley, 200 m backstroke, 200 m freestyle, 100 m freestyle, 100 m backstroke and 50 m backstroke.

He said he was inspired by his heroes, swimmers Natalie du Toit and Ryk Neethling, and wanted to work hard so he could compete in the next Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Last year, he came back from the German Swimming Open with a gold medal as part of a team that also included Du Toit.

Coming from a sporting family, swimming seemed the natural choice after he lost his leg to cancer aged nine.

Both his father, Martin, and an aunt held national records in their day, in breaststroke and backstroke respectively. Not only that, but his father played water polo for South Africa, and his sister, Catherine — who is studying first-year medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand — plays water polo for Gauteng.

“I was quite young when I lost my leg. I was not sure what path I would be able to take in my life,” he said of how he felt after his leg was amputated.

But his father helped him make his choice.

“I wanted to do a sport that I thought I could do. I did swim before I lost my leg, but not competitively,” he said.

It’s been six years since the amputation, and he has got used to walking around with a prosthetic leg. He is not treated differently at school, he said. “Everyone treats me as they’d treat anyone. I’ve never had a problem.”

Speaking to The Witness, his father said he and his wife were proud of what James had achieved, particularly with the adversity he had faced.

“Pridwin Preparatory School [the school he attended in Johannesburg] and Hilton College have been so encouraging,” he said.

Asked if he had any idea his son would be where he is today after surviving cancer, he said: “We were all too grateful that he was alive. Achievements after that were not on the agenda.”

Given that Martin was a record holder, did he coach his up-and-coming superstar son?

“I stay out of it,” he said. “I think it’s best that parents stay out of their children’s sporting lives. I’m happy just leaving that to the coaches.”

The director of marketing at Hilton College, Paul Guthrie, said the school was proud of what James had achieved.

Describing him as a dedicated boy who also excelled in his studies, Guthrie said James had proven to others at the school that anything was possible.

“When he goes to events, he makes sure he catches up and is always up to speed in his work,” said Guthrie, adding that when the swimmer was not representing South Africa in some far-off country, he participated in school events.

And, like his father and his sister, he plays water polo.

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