Catching a wave is a thrill like no other – just ask Alulutho Tshoba (15).
As a child, Alulutho was diagnosed with spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy which causes the muscles in her legs to stiffen. She uses crutches to get around, but this hasn’t deterred the Open Air School Grade 8 pupil from following her passion – and the teen hopes to represent South Africa at the ISA World Para Surfing Championships 2022 in Pismo Beach, California, later this year.
She started taking surfing lessons in October 2017 with the non-profit organisation, Made For More, which works to empower people with disabilities.
Alulutho lives in Clermont, an informal settlement in KwaZulu-Natal, with her mother, Cynthia (47), and brother, Lwazi (20).
Cynthia says her daughter was a healthy and happy baby, but as she grew, she noticed her daughter was not attempting to walk and she had to carry her everywhere.
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“She used to lie on the bed. I thought maybe she was scared to walk. I realised when she was a year and four months old that something was wrong. I went to see a doctor who said she may [be experiencing a developmental delay] and I should not rush,” the single mother recalls.
Two months later, Alulutho was still unable to walk and Cynthia sought a second opinion. Alulutho was diagnosed with spastic diplegia.
When she was six she went under the knife for an op to stretch out the muscles in her legs. Then at age 13 she had a similar operation and went from using a walking frame to crutches. She has a wheelchair but she cannot use it as she lives in an area with bad roads.
“How people see me does not affect me because I use my crutches and play with other children,” she says.
Sometimes she experiences pain, but she mostly has to deal with stiff muscles and she goes for medical check-ups every six months.
She started adaptive surfing lessons when she was 11, but it hasn’t been easy. She takes two taxis to get to Addington Beach where her lessons take place. Fortunately Alulutho managed to get a sponsor who pays for her swimming lessons, which cost R250 per month.
But none of these challenges has prevented her from achieving her dreams. Last year she took first place at the SA Para Surfing Champions in the women’s prone assist division, for athletes who surf on their bellies and need assistance getting into the surf.
“If I didn’t have this disability, I would not have learned how to surf. I might have been doing other sports which I may not have liked,” Alulutho says.
Through crowdfunding, she and her mother raised enough money for both of them to the travel to the USA in December this year.
“I’m so happy and proud of my daughter. No one in my family has gone overseas or even gotten on a plane. It will be our first time,” Cynthia says.
“This condition does not deter me or make me feel low. It makes me want to show off my real self,” Alulutho says.