How silver medallist Bianca Buitendag overcame trauma, tragedy to triumph in Tokyo

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South African surfer Bianca Buitendag wins silver at Tokyo Olympics
South African surfer Bianca Buitendag wins silver at Tokyo Olympics
Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Fighting back tears, retired SA Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Bianca Buitendag said overcoming personal tragedy, like the loss of her dad Colin, strengthened her resolve in her quest for success.

Buitendag's father, a former Western Province provincial surfer, died tragically in 2015, aged 54. Buitendag's mother, Yvette, "beat two cancers in one year", something that would have been tough on the surf sensation and her family to bear.

Her father introduced her to the sport at a young age, and by 8, she was already competing in surfing competitions. She went on to make the podium at the sport's first entrée as an Olympic sport - a historic achievement.

'Vasbyt en gebed (resilience and prayer)' were her strength pillars that helped her rise above adversity to claim silver in Tokyo, she said.

After finishing runner up to American Carissa Moore, Buitendag dedicated her medal to her mother.

"A lot of times we focus on the success, and it's good to celebrate, but we all go through personal hiccups, trauma and tragedy," Buitendag said at Olympic automotive partner Toyota's prize handover ceremony in Sandton last Friday.

"I think it's all about resilience, really. We are all proof that 'vasbyt en gebed' (resilience and prayer) will get you to the other side.

"I lost my father, but I had a wonderful father for many years of my life, so I didn't lack in that aspect."

READ | 'Full-blooded South African' Bianca Buitendag leaves a rare legacy after Olympic glory

Buitendag, 27, immediately retired from surfing after her exploits in Tokyo with a message posted on her official Facebook account on 28 July.

She added that she was living proof that miracles could happen and that anyone with a dream could achieve it if she managed to attain hers.

"I think if I can do it, seriously, anybody can. I am the living proof of a miracle," said Buitendag.

"Coming from a small town (Victoria Bay) in the Southern Cape and ending up on the podium in Tokyo is just [proof] of that.

"Don't count yourself out of a miracle because they do happen."

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