MY STORY | How I turned my disability into my strength

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Noluthando Makalima, who was born with cerebral palsy, started surfing in 2014 and is gearing up to participate in the 
World Parasurfing Championships in California for the second time this year. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Noluthando Makalima, who was born with cerebral palsy, started surfing in 2014 and is gearing up to participate in the World Parasurfing Championships in California for the second time this year. (PHOTO: Supplied)

She was born with cerebral palsy which limited her participation in almost every sport. Never in her wildest dreams did she think she would end up on a surfboard catching waves and winning competitions. But that’s exactly what’s happened to 32-year-old Noluthando Makalima from Cape Town. Noluthando, who also received the Minister’s Recognition of Excellence Award last year, says at first she feared the water but that’s a thing of the past. 

She shares her story of how conquering her fears has given her the confidence to reach her goals and win competitions one wave at a time. 

“As a single mother dependent on a social grant, things can get tough. To top it off, my mother, who was my biggest support system, passed away in 2012 and I knew I needed to do something that would help me cope with everything. 

That’s when one of my friends introduced me to the Siyaphakama Development for the Disabled Association, which is a support group for people with disabilities. It really was a source of strength and a place where I could just relax and have fun, especially because there were people who also have disabilities like me.  

In 2014, two years after joining the Siyaphakama group, we were taken to Blouberg Beach where the organisers said they wanted to teach us how to surf. Not only did I have a fear of water, but I couldn’t swim and I didn’t understand how I would do it because of my condition.

I was very scared during my first lesson. But I trusted the process and with the help of the assistants, my coach and mentor I started to believe I could do it. And I haven’t regretted it for a second.  

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Five years later, in 2019, I started competing in adaptive surfing competitions through the organisation and to my surprise I won the first competition I participated in. Naturally I gained more and more confidence and slowly overcame my fear of water. 

But last year came the biggest surprise when I was selected to compete in my first international parasurfing competition and won the silver medal at the International Surfing Association World Paralympic Championship in California.  It was not only my first time competing on an international stage, but also my first time overseas. Winning that medal was such an amazing feeling and really made me realise how far I have come. 

Noluthando says surfing has given her the confiden
Noluthando says surfing has given her the confidence to go after her dreams. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Looking at my journey I realise that my six-year-old daughter, Iminathi, is the main person to have given me the strength to persevere and who inspires me to face my fears. 

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I was selected to participate in the World Parasurfing Championships again this year and even though I don’t have the funds yet I am hoping [with the aid of crowdfunding] that I will be able to go come December, bring back the gold and make my daughter proud. 

That is my dream: to build a better future for my daughter through surfing. Because surfing has taught me that it is possible for me to get what I want in life. 

With her six-year-old daughter Iminathi who she sa
With her six-year-old daughter, Iminathi, who she says is her source of inspiration. (PHOTO: Supplied)

More than that I want to show my daughter that a disability is not a limitation to achieve something in life. What is important is that you take your disability and turn it into your strength. 

I know now that this is my purpose because it is what I love doing. When I am in the water I get so much confidence, forget about everything and just enjoy the moment.

At first water was my fear, but now it is my therapy.” 

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