‘I’m Ntando, the great’

2016-09-18 06:01
Ntando Mahlangu (SASPA)

Ntando Mahlangu (SASPA)

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WATCH: Golden day for Team SA

2016-09-16 13:30

Team South Africa had a remarkable medal haul on Thursday at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, with two golds, a silver and a bronze. Watch.WATCH

Johannesburg - As a 10-year-old, just after being fitted with prosthetic legs for the first time, Ntando Mahlangu wanted to run.

On the first day he had legs, four years ago, he ran so much and was so exhausted that he vomited.

The 14-year-old Mahlangu this week scooped a silver medal in the 200m for men at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Competing in the T42 category (amputation above the knees), the only person who could beat him was the 40-year-old Brit Richard Whitehead.

The ages of the six people who were left in his dust ranged from 23 to 35.

But age is just a number for the young man.

“You have to grow up fast when you lose the ability to walk. I had to learn to deal with things that other kids don’t even think about,” Mahlangu said in an email from Rio.

“It all forms you as a person. I believe in myself and running against [grown-up] men doesn’t intimidate me; it encourages me to show I can compete.”

In any event, Mahlangu said he only compared himself with one person: himself.

His road to glory started four years ago when he decided to have the useless lower legs he was born with amputated.

Mahlangu hails from the rural Tweefontein in KwaMhlanga, Mpumalanga, but now lives in Pretoria where he is a Grade 7 pupil and prefect at Laerskool Constantia Park, a mainstream school where he is not afforded any special treatment.

Mahlangu’s grandmother, who works in Pretoria, enrolled him there because schools in Tweefontein could not accommodate him as a wheelchair-bound boy with hemimelia – a congenital condition where one is born with the absence or gross shortening of the lower portion of one or more of the legs.

“My parents weren’t crazy about the idea [to amputate]. They thought I was just a kid who couldn’t make a big decision, such as deciding to cut my legs of, but I had to do it. I knew that’s what I wanted from the moment I heard I could get prostheses if I amputated my legs,” said Mahlangu.

He remembers the day he first tried his prostheses like it was yesterday.

“I was really nervous and I started throwing up after I took my first step. It was the best feeling ever because, suddenly, I could look people in the eye and I could use my hands.”

Initially, starting pistols and tartan were far from his frame of reference.

“I only got my prosthetic legs after the Paralympic Games [of 2012], so I didn’t actually pay any attention to it.”

But then he met Samkelo Radebe, who lost both his arms at nine when his kite got tangled in power lines, as well as Arnu Fourie, whose left leg was amputated following a boating accident, and held the medals they had won in London.

“That was my motivation to try to get
to Rio.”

Mahlangu is a member of a sports club called Isability, which is run by Jumping Kids – a not-for-profit organisation that raises funds to get prosthetic limbs for amputees.

Club manager Fred Furstenberg said Mahlangu did not want to be compared to former blade runner Oscar Pistorius, since he first met him as a 10-year-old.

“Somebody came up to him and said, ‘You’re like Oscar.’ He turned around and said: ‘No, I’m Ntando.’

“He said to me: ‘I’m Ntando, the great.’”

His physiotherapist, Elmarie Smith, remembers the first day Mahlangu’s was fitted with prosthetic legs at Steve Biko Academic Hospital when he was 10 years old.

Smith works for Jumping Kids.

“He was never interested in walking,” Smith said.

“Because he just wanted to play soccer and run, we thought that we should make his dream come true.”

Mahlangu was given running blades instead of the walking prosthetic.

“I don’t see myself as a superstar, just as Ntando Mahlangu. “I’m still a 14-year-old who likes spending time with my friends, sports [especially soccer], having conversations and learning how to mix music.”

Read more on:    ntando mahlangu  |  paralympics 2016

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