The eyes of the world will be on London this year as athletes from around the globe compete for Olympic medals. But an event that is often overlooked but of equal prestige is the Paralympics. This year Tuks’s own Emily Gray hopes to be one of the athletes who will make up South Africa’s team at the biggest event in disabled sports.
Like Oscar Pistorius and Natalie du Toit, Gray’s story is tragic. At the age of 11, she was diagnosed with cancer. After chemotherapy failed the decision to amputate her left leg was made. “The whole experience was traumatic. You don’t expect someone so young to get diagnosed with something like cancer. At that age, I didn’t even know what cancer really was. My dad had to explain to me what was going on. In my case it was simply a case of life and death,” she told Perdeby.
She joined the Mandeville Sports Club in Johannesburg as a way of dealing with the prospect of never again being able to play the sports that she loved. After trying several activities including wheelchair basketball and rugby, she eventually settled on swimming. Three years later at age 15, she was representing South Africa at the Pacific School Games in Australia, earning her very first medal as an international athlete placing third.
Only five years after she lost her leg, she was on her way to the 2008 Beijing Paralympics as part of the South African swimming team. At just 17 years old, she was the youngest member of the outfit. This year she hopes to be selected again. “It’s really scary because the team announcements are left very late. It will be made in June and by August the team has to leave for London. But having gone to the Beijing Paralympics, I pretty much know what to expect,” she said.
“Obviously I’ll be very disappointed if I am not chosen, but I am already looking towards the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil. You just have to train as if you’re going,” Gray concluded.
Emily Gray has come a long way since the 2008 Paralympics in China. She is currently ranked sixth in the world in the 400m freestyle event. She also represented South Africa at the 2011 All Africa games, winning a silver medal, and was nominated for the 2011 South African Disabled Sports Woman of the Year award.
TuksSwimming Head Coach, Igor Omeltchenko, had nothing but praise for his 20-year-old starlet. “She’s really one of my best swimmers. She is always positive and always works very hard. You see her here every day working hard. She’s a good example to the others because she never gives up. She has one leg but she swims with athletes that have both their legs and is never far behind. I cannot complain about her,” he said.
Described by Rolling Sport website as someone who “tackles life with quiet determination and dedication – whether it is international swimming, succeeding at university or fighting cancer”, few believe she will fail to make the team and wear the South African colours at the 2012 London Paralympics.