Nelson Mandela once said, “Sport has the power to change the world.”
“Sport has changed my life! It has changed my perception on life with a disability and instilled in me a ‘life without limits’ attitude and a ‘never give up’ mind set!”
Born with a degenerative disease known as Hereditary Spastic Paralysis (HPS) that causes a slow loss of functionality in the limbs, Catherine van Staden, who has this condition in her legs, refuses to allow it to interfere with her single greatest passion – sport!
But it has been a journey of many years, not all of them easy. “For many years, I suffered from self-pity and depression as a result of my condition,” says Catherine, allowing it to stop her pursuing her passion.
As a child, Catherine was still able to walk and run, albeit it with a bit of difficulty. However, by the time she reached adulthood, her ability to walk was severely impacted. “I had to literally plan my route, walking from pillar to pillar or wall to wall.” Vehemently opposed to crutches, a set of hiking poles enabled smoother mobility.
As opposed as Catherine was to crutches, wheelchairs were a definite no no! “It was my biggest fear! I was terrified it would render me useless and dependent, incapable of being a functioning member of society.”
One of the most impactful quotes Catherine ever read, that not only inspired her but enabled her to shift both her perception of her disability and potential wheelchair use was written by the blind climber, Erik Weihenmayer, who said, “I wasn’t afraid to go blind and see darkness. I was afraid to be swept to the side-lines and be forgotten, to be obsolete.”
“This resonated with me and I released that my fear was not so much about losing my ability to walk or landing up in a wheelchair, but rather based on a fear of being swept to the side-lines … forgotten.” Realising that a wheelchair was simply a tool that would enable greater mobility, Catherine set about procuring her very first one … notably a racing wheelchair.
Having always participated in sports as a child, with Steffi Graf her greatest hero and a childhood wish and dream to be a famous sportsperson, it had been many years since Catherine had actively participated in anything sport related.
In 2013, with the perception of her disability having shifted, Catherine decided it was time to embrace her passion for sport. With swimming the most practical option, Catherine set herself the goal of participating in the Midmar mile. With eight weeks to go, she signed up with the Sports Science Institute’s ‘Go for it’ programme and two months later, participated and completed her first ever Midmar mile swim.
And she hasn’t looked back!
A determined human being, Catherine is using her disability to redefine the word “IMPOSSIBLE”. “My personal motto is all about taking the ‘dis’ in disability and redefining it… DARING to dream, INSPIRING people to get out there and be active, being STRONG. It’s not just about swimming, cycling and running, it’s about who you become through the power of sport!”
After successfully completing the Midmar mile, Catherine realised she could take on anything! This saw her then start to compete in several swimming events and triathlons, culminating in her first ever attempt at a 70.3 Ironman in 2017!
By taking back her passion for sport, Catherine has taken back her passion for life and there is no stopping her!
And the dream: to be the first female South African hand cyclist EVER to complete an Ironman Triathlon, a race consisting of a 3.8 km swim, a 180.25 km bicycle ride and a marathon 42.20 km run, raced in that order and without a break. It is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. To compete as an able-bodied athlete is tough, as a hand cyclist like Catherine it is … almost impossible … having to race the entire distance with only her arms and to do it within 17 hours!
The beginning of last year (2019) got off to a very good start with a great race that unexpectedly saw Catherine become part of the Gauteng National Triathlon Team, followed by the Sun City Ultra in May and the 70.3 Ironman event in Western Australia in December.
And the future?
Catherine is committed to short term reachable goals in order to continue building both strength and endurance, with a longer term four to five-year plan that will hopefully see her compete in the World Championship in 2022!
But first on the agenda … following on from last year’s successes, 2020 will see Catherine compete in the Ultra Durban (1.9 km swim, 90km cycle, 21 km run) and Cape Argus Cycle Tour (103 km cycle), both in March and the 70.3 Ironman in Durban in June. All of these with a lead up to competing a full IronMan in 2021, followed by the desired IronMan World Championships in 2022!
And after that … the stars and the sky …
“My PURPOSE is to INSPIRE every individual from all walks of life to realise their potential, reach their own dreams and above all NEVER GIVE UP.”
Daring! Inspiring! Strong!
Keep Going Catherine!