FEEL GOOD: Local teen Minke Janse van Rensburg, a swimmer with Down Syndrome, is making waves in competitive circles

Minke Janse van Rensburg (middle)
Minke Janse van Rensburg (middle)

She opens the gate to her mothers business for me after I ring the bell, welcomes me in and then off she goes to the back where she was playing.

I step into her mothers office take a seat and patiently Aletta Janse van Rensburg and I wait for her dad, Hennie Janse van Rensburg to come tell me more about the brilliant swimmer and athlete this young woman, Minke Janse van Rensburg, is.

Minke is a swimmer with down syndrome from the small city, George in the Southern Cape, that also happens to be my place of birth.

If you have not heard her name, allow me to tell her story.

In 2018 at the young age of 13, Minke was nominated for Sportswoman of the Year with a Disability and ultimately became a finalist in the Newcomer of the Year award at the South African Sport Awards hosted by the department of sport and recreation.


Minke, now 15, is a learner at Carpe Diem School, where they strive to develop the unique potential of every learner with special needs. 

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How it all started

In 2015, during one of Carpe Diem’s therapy sessions, coach Sybeth Hughes noticed Minke’s passion for swimming as well as her competitiveness, and offered to include her in formal swimming classes.

It may have started with swimming, but a team member's parent noticed Minke’s drive to achieve when she runs around the track during land training.

This parent suggested Minke's parents must let her try out for biathlon: they did, and never looked back.

"We took Minke to Oudtshoorn, and the Biathlon structure that allows people who are handicapped to compete against one another, and against able kids who are performing on a similar level (often those who are younger) created a platform where Minke experienced the satisfaction of being competitive," her dad, Hennie, told me. 

This, together with the atmosphere of camaraderie, inspired her to take her training more seriously. 

"Neither one of us as her parents nor her coach had to drive her towards performance; she just always wants to give her best," he said.


Competitions and achievements

With her dedication and passion, comes great rewards and Minke has a long list of achievements to show for all the time she invests in training.

She has broken several local swimming records and also competes against able-bodied swimmers and participants much older than her.

She has won gold in Biathlon for disabled people.

She has also won gold in the Highgate Provincial Championship in Oudtshoorn.

Minke’s participation in Biathlon, and specifically the times she swam while competing, resulted in her swimming coach registering Minke for her first interschool gala at Glenwood House in George during February 2017.

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Never discouraged

At the gala Minke competed against able bodied children in her age group and came last in some of the items, but it was inspiring to notice that she was not discouraged by that in anyway whatsoever her dad says. 

"She always gives her best and at the end of the day her comment on how it was is always short and simple: 'Lekker!'" Hennie shares.

She has competed at various galas and her times have consistently improved.

She received her first gold medal at the 2018 Biathlon National Championship.

"The biathlon championships serve to encourage and inspire her. Every time she participates in Biathlon, she receives acknowledgement for her effort and after every event she will tell anyone who performed well they are now a friend of hers. It was interesting to notice that she always wants to be associated with the winners of the day," says dad Hennie.  

Minke travelled all the way to Canada at the age of 13 - without her parents - in July 2018 to represent South Africa at the 9th Down Syndrome World Swimming Championships, where she set a new junior Down Syndrome world record in the 50m short course freestyle.


Thus far she holds 17 Africa records and 5 International records.

Her parents are extremely proud of everything she has achieved and always continue to encourage their daughter to pursue her interests.

Minke is also the new Down Syndrome Open Africa record holder for 100m freestyle. "Minke was ecstatic when she found out she broke the previous record," Hennie told me.

"From a young age we encouraged Minke to do what she loves, and we tried our very best to not only tell her to do things but also show her so as a family we have always lived a very active life," he explained.

Lead by example

He says he always tells parents that if they want their children to be a good runner, they must put on their running shoes and lead by example.

Despite being extremely competitive Hennie says Minke remains humble.

When asked about her popularity in George dad Hennie responds, "Yes, she is quite well known in the city but she remains humble and she always friendly. She often goes up to people and gives them hugs, and always extends compassion to other children."

Minke suddenly runs into the room, smiles at all of us, and off she goes again.

And I just know that this isn't the last we'll hear of this budding Olympian.

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Read more:

Local woman with swim school shares five swimming tips for kids with special needs

‘What I’ve learnt from having a child born with Down Syndrome’

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