Wheelchair tennis athlete honoured at Gauteng Sports Awards
Friday, 24 June, 2011. Last night (23 June 2011) Lucas Sithole, a 24 year old wheelchair tennis player from Natal was named ‘Disabled Sportsman of the Year’ at the Gauteng Sports Awards held at Emperors Palace. Sithole was competing for the title against athlete Isaac Mahlake and swimmer Rian Du Plessis. Up against stiff competition, three finalists in 13 categories were nominated for the awards by an independent auditor. The awards aim to recognise and honour sports stars, teams, administrators and media who showed commitment to, and excellence in sport in 2010, and continue to do so. “It has been such an honour to receive this accolade and feels so good to be recognised alongside such great athletes,” said Sithole. The award comes off the back of Sithole’s nomination by the Mail & Guardian in June as one of South Africa’s top 200 influential men, in the Sport’s category.
Sithole, an inspiring quadriplegic, is Wheelchair Tennis South Africa’s (WTSA) No. 1 ranked player and internationally is positioned No. 16. Sithole is a fiercely competitive athlete, a great team player and has a natural ability for the game. Sithole was involved in a tragic train accident which left him a triple amputee at the tender age of 10. Today he is a young man with inspiring strength with a philosophy that in life nothing is impossible. “That’s why I’ll try and fail, but I don’t fail to try. I am my passport to becoming a world champion.” Not surprisingly Sithole dedicates his time and energy to reaching the top 10 rankings of the world, and is currently doggedly working toward representing SA at the 2012 Paralympics.
Sithole’s fellow tennis champion, Kgothatso Montjane was awarded Silver in the category ‘Disabled Sportswomen of the Year category’. “This has been a great privilege for me especially considering that I was up against swimmer, Natalie du Toit, who I am totally in awe of. It has been so exciting,” said Montjane who is currently No. 14. on the international ranking, and No. 1 in South Africa.
Montjane was also unbeaten in Africa’s first World Team Cup in April. Montjane hails from Polokwane and is currently studying at the University of Johannesburg. Her hope is to encourage all those with a physical affliction to try a disabled sport. “Wheelchair tennis has given me a new perspective and has become a driving passion in my life. And you don’t need to be a champion to participate. I want to encourage other people with disabilities to play wheelchair tennis because it’s given me a new life and a healthy sense of well-being. You don’t have to be a champion to play wheelchair tennis. It shows people with disabilities that we can be active and lead fulfilled lives.” Montjane was born with a congenital defect and suffered a foot amputation, but this 25-year-old has not let that stand in her way to becoming an accomplished athlete. She already has many big tournament wins behind her name and has established a formidable presence on the international wheelchair tennis circuit. Montjane is currently pouring all her energy into training for the upcoming 2012 Paralympics to be held in London.
Airports Company South Africa is the official sponsor of the sport with no less than R14-million being contributed to date. Additionally, it has committed to a continued investment in the sport as its flagship CSI project. Group Manager Communications, Solomon Makgale said, “What a wonderful opportunity this has been to celebrate our top players. Sithole and Montjane continue to do our country proud as they climb up the international ladder, but tonight has been about collecting a local accolade, which they are most deserving of. Sithole and Montjane are an inspiration to many disabled and able-bodied people across the Rainbow Nation.”
WTSA currently celebrates 80 players on the world ranking - this is more than any other nation and a true accomplishment for any country with such a young team. From its inception wheelchair tennis has been one of the fastest growing wheelchair sports in the world – primarily because it integrates easily with the able-bodied game.
In 2004 WTSA officially set out to grow this as a national sport for the disabled. The WTSA philosophy is based on offering life skills such as discipline, determination and teamwork.