Natalie du Toit

Born 29 January 1984, Natalie du Toit was a Western Province provincial swimmer, from Wynberg Girls HS and training with coach Karoly von Törrös at the Vineyard SC in Cape Town. At age 14 she was set a South African national record in the 400m IM at the 1998 nationals in Durban, and finishing second in the 200m butterfly. Later that year she competed in these two events at the Commonwealth Games held Kuala Lumpur. In 1999 she again won the 400 IM and silver in the 200m fly at nationals. In 2000 she narrowly failed to qualify for the Olympic Games.

In 2001 she suffered the loss of lower left leg in a car accident - and became a para-Olympian competitor in the S9 class. In 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing she became the first amputee ever to qualify for the Olympics, where she placed 16th in the 10K open water swim.

Natalie du Toit doing butterfly in the old Vineyard swimming pool


It happened when Natalie was leaving the Newlands pool. She had spent the morning training. Du Toit got on her scooter and was heading for school. The scooter was a semi-automatic. She could sit on it with her legs on the sides. Du Toit was able to change gears with her left leg. A vehicle came out of the car park and quickly came down the road. The driver went straight into du Toit's leg. Her leg crumbled after the impact. It was five days later when the physicians told Natalie du Toit and her parents the leg would have to be amputated. A titanium rod and screws would be permanently placed in her femur.

Commonwealth Games

Natalie was determined to continue her quest to compete in the Olympics. At 18 years old she competed in the 2001 Manchester Commonwealth games. She broke records when she swam the multi-disability 100 meters freestyle as well as the multi-disability 50-meter freestyle. Besides breaking records, du Toit made history. She qualified to swim in the 800 meters able-bodied freestyle final. This was the first time in history a disabled athlete was able to qualify to participate in the final of an able-bodied event. During the closing ceremonies of the 2001 Manchester Commonwealth games, a special award was given to Natalie du Toit. She was given the David Dixon Award. This is given to the Outstanding Athlete of the Games.

2003 Competitions

Natalie competed in the 2003 All Africa Games. During this competition, she swam against all able-bodied swimmers. She won the gold in the 800 meters freestyle. During this year, she also competed in the Afro-Asian Games. In this event, she again swam against able-bodied swimmers and won the silver medal in the 800 freestyle. In the 400 meters freestyle, she won a bronze medal.

2004 Competitions

This year the Olympics would be held in Athens. Du Toit came very close to qualifying. The Paralympics also took place in Athens. During this competition, Natalie du Toit won five gold medals and a silver medal. By this time athletes around the world were recognizing her courage as well as success. She was nominated to receive the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year 2004 Award.

2006 Competitions

Natalie again participated in the Commonwealth Games. She again won two gold medals. Du Toit also participated in the fourth IPC World Swimming Championships. During these games, she finished third overall in a very special race. Her race competition was 36 males as well as 20 other females.

2008 Olympics

The Open Water World Championships took place in Seville, Spain in 2008. Natalie du Toit was able to finish in fourth place, and this qualified her to participate in the 2008 Beijing Olympics against able-bodied athletes. Natalie du Toit was chosen by South Africa's Olympic Committee to carry their flag during the opening ceremonies of the summer Olympic games in Beijing. This made her the only athlete to carry their country's flag during opening ceremonies for the Olympics as well as Paralympics in the same year. Du Toit was also the first female amputee to ever qualify for Olympic competition against able-bodied swimmers. She swam 6.2 miles of open water with no lower left leg or prosthetic assistance. Du Toit finished in 16th place in the woman's 10 km race. She also participated in the 2008 Summer Paralympics. During this competition, she won five gold medals.

2012 Competitions

Natalie participated in the 2012 London Paralympic Games. During this competition, she won three gold medals and a silver medal. This brought her total number of gold medals to 13 spanning three Paralympic Games. 2012 was the last time du Toit would participate in professional swimming. She officially retired after the games were over.

Struggles And Inspiration

During the time Natalie du Toit swam competitively, she had a laminated poem by Benjamin Mays on her wall that provided her with inspiration. “The tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching your goals; The tragedy of life lies in not having goals to reach for.” She was often frustrated when meeting people as they seemed to notice her disability before they started to notice her. Du Toit had to accept that her swim times were slower than they were prior to the accident. Because of her condition, her right leg was always forced to work twice as hard. This caused her problems with cramping during long distance races. Things got rough between swimmers during open-water swimming competitions. Turning at marker buoys can be like competing in a type of water roller derby. Du Toit realized if you want to achieve your goals you just keep on. Du Toit still has flashbacks from the accident and must still regularly visit a chiropractor who puts her body back in balance.

Public Speaker

After retiring from swimming, Natalie du Toit earned a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Cape Town. She specialized in genetics and physiology. Today, du Toit is very busy meeting the demands of being a motivational speaker. She is well-known for her ability to inspire young people to pursue their dreams. Du Toit's swimming career has become an inspiration for many people all over the world who hear her story. She gives talks to schools, businesses as well as other groups who want to hear her talk. Natalie du Toit speaks to people about facing good situations as well as bad situations. She shares the many lessons she has learned about facing her adversity. Natalie du Toit's emphasis is on self-belief and how her desire to succeed against all odds came from within her. With thanks to

It was quite a shock to find that I suddenly didn't have my leg but I decided I wanted to get back to swimming
I want to win a medal for myself but it would be great for all those people who have helped me get back into the pool

Swimming through the pain barrier

24 July 2002

On Monday, 27 February, 2001, Du Toit was travelling to school from a swimming training session when she was injured.

She remembered: "It didn't take the leg off, it was more like it is when you drop a tomato from a great height. Everything was just obliterated."

Du Toit, who was conscious throughout the ordeal, feared that her career was over.

Despite a week-long effort by doctors to save her damaged limb, the leg had to be amputated.

"I knew the operation was going to happen because, although I was sedated, I could hear people around me," she continued.

"But when I came round the first thing I said to my parents was 'when is the operation' and they told me it had already happened."

She was also left with a titanium plate in her leg, a skin graft and severely damaged nerve endings.

But her goal was immediately clear.

She said: "It was quite a shock to find that I suddenly didn't have my leg but I decided I wanted to get out of the hospital, which I did within a few days, get back to walking and, of course, swimming."

That happened with almost immediate effect.

She returned to training in May of last year, which she admits was "excruciatingly painful" and this summer's Games will be her first ever competition as a disabled athlete.

However, the tragic accident has not left the teenager at all bitter.

She said: "I put it down to faith - things happen for a reason. And, as it happens, this has opened other doors for me.

"It hasn't stopped what is my life, and that is swimming."

Aside from her "incredible, but stubborn determination", according to her coach Karoly von Toros, she insists the support from her family and the South African public at large gave her the boost she needed.

And the Games for her is the "time to repay that".

"I want to win a medal for myself but it would be great for all those people who have helped me get back into the pool," she added.

Obstacles such as rivals in the pool do not seem to be a consideration.

When Du Toit had her left leg amputated below the knee following a scooter accident in early 2001, she ended up encouraging tearful family members while recovering in hospital - and within a few months of leaving hospital was back in the swimming pool.

In an interview with William Rowland published on Disability World in early 2004, Du Toit said that her accident had only served to increase her determination. Back in the pool within four months after her operation, she spent the first week swimming by herself.

"After a week I started with the squad, but in the first lane", she told Rowland. "It was not nice seeing little babies beat you; so I just had to train harder ... get up with the guys ... get up with the seniors ... get back to the level I was swimming at before."

Du Toit switched to longer events - from 200m and 400m individual medley to 800m and 1 500m freestyle - to make up for her loss of speed with only one leg. But she made no adjustment to her mental outlook.

"There's really no line between able-bodied and disabled swimming ... I treat both of them the same. They're your opponents and you've got to race the way you train.

"It is important to swim your own race and not someone else's."

Before she lost her leg in an accident, Du Toit narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. As an amputee, she failed to qualify for the Athens Olympics in 2004.

2008 Beijing Olympics Open Water Women's 10 000 metres: Natalie du Toit of South Africa removes her artificial leg at the starting line for the women's marathon 10km swimming competition at the Beijing 2008.

Du Toit doesn't win, but inspires

21 August 2008

Natalie du Toit pulled herself onto the dock and waited for someone to bring her prosthetic leg. She stretched out the other leg - the one she didn't lose in that horrendous motorcycle accident - and chatted with her coach about the first open water race in Olympic history. Du Toit didn't finish where she wanted. Not even close.

 But just making it to Beijing was a huge victory for someone with a disability.

Hoping to contend for a medal, the 24-year-old South African amputee fell off the pace toward the end of the grueling 10km (6.2 mile) race and finished 16th, more than a minute behind gold medalist Larisa Ilchenko of Russia.

"I tried my best," du Toit said. "I'm not too happy with it, but I'll be back for 2012."

Don't bet against her.

When she walked out with 24 other swimmers to be introduced for the historic event, it was quickly apparent this wasn't just another competitor.

 Du Toit hobbled along stiffly on her artificial leg, No. 23 written on her back and both arms. While others bounced up and down to loosen up, she settled for shaking her arms. A couple of times, she walked over to the edge to splash water on her face and goggles, leaning over tenuously with her metal prosthetic sticking out to the side, serving as balance.

When it was time to race, she walked onto the dock and removed her replacement leg. Someone moved it away, and du Toit sat at the edge of the water, her right leg dangling in. When the starter called for everyone to get ready, she pulled herself up, wobbled just a bit and dove in.

She was an Olympian.

Du Toit hung with the lead pack most of the race, but couldn't keep up when the pace quickened toward the end of the two-hour ordeal. She finished 1 min, 22.2 sec behind Ilchenko, who out-sprinted two British swimmers who led most of the way.

But du Toit's time of 2 hr, 49 min, 9 sec put her ahead of nine others, including 16-year-old American Chloe Sutton, who broke down in tears after finishing, every part of her body cramping and aching.

"I've got to get faster," said du Toit, who looked like she could swim another 10km. "The race will obviously improve. This is the first time they've swum it at the Olympics. It's going to get faster and faster."

An up-and-coming swimmer who just missed qualifying for the Sydney Games, du Toit's life took a tragic turn in 2001. Returning to school on a motorbike after a training session, she collided with a car and sustained massive injuries to her left leg. Doctors tried for a week to save it but finally had to amputate at the knee.

Instead of giving up on her athletic career, du Toit was back in the water six months later. Swimming made her feel whole again, but she wasn't competitive with able-bodied athletes in the pool, where the legs are vital for starts and turns.

Along came open water, which was added to the program for Beijing. There are no flip turns to negotiate in marathon swimming, which is usually held in lakes and oceans, and the upper body is more important than the legs.

Du Toit had found her new calling. She qualified for the Olympics with a fourth-place finish at the world championships in Spain this year.

"I find it hard, and I'm a completely able-bodied person," said Cassandra Patten, who won bronze in the race held at the Olympic rowing and canoeing course. "She's an amazing role model."

Ilchenko praised du Toit for not letting her disability hold her back. She was right in there battling with everyone else in a race that's often called wrestling in the water for its rough tactics.

"I'd even go so far as to award her a separate medal," the winner said through a translator. "I have enormous respect for her. It is exceedingly hard. Just looking at these people inspires you."

Paralympics 2012: Natalie du Toit second in final race

Natalie du Toit ended her swimming career with defeat to Australian Ellie Cole in the S9 100m freestyle final.

The South African, who says she nearly did not attend the Games after a troubled build-up, ended the event with three golds and a silver.

Du Toit, who lost her left leg in a car crash in 2001, won 15 Paralympic medals in all - 13 gold and two silvers.

"I walk away knowing I have achieved everything I could ever have wanted to," said the 28-year-old.

In London she won :

Gold medal – first place 2012 London 100 m butterfly S9
Gold medal – first place 2012 London 400 m freestyle S9
Gold medal – first place 2012 London 200 m individual medley S9
Silver medal – second place 2012 London 100m Freestyle S9

Honorary MBE for Natalie du Toit

30 September 2013

South African swimmer Natalie du Toit, who led the way in bridging the divide between Paralympic and Olympic sport, is to receive an honorary MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), the British High Commission announced on Friday.

Du Toit, who retired from competitive swimming after the 2012 London Paralympics, told the South African Press Association (Sapa) on the weekend: “I find myself extremely humbled and honoured to be receiving this auspicious award. To those that have made it possible, I thank you for believing in me and by having stayed by my side.”

‘An inspiration’

British Acting High Commissioner Martin Reynolds said: “Natalie has achieved great success in her sport, demonstrating an ability to compete with the best in both Olympic and Paralympic disciplines at numerous international sporting events.

“Natalie is an inspiration to up and coming athletes throughout the world and I am delighted she has been recognised for her achievements.”

As a teenager, Du Toit was a rising star of South African swimming when she was involved in accident in 2001, which resulted in her left leg being amputated below the knee.

Incredibly, the following year she was back in the pool and competing in the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

She qualified for the 800 metres freestyle final – the first time in history that an athlete with disability had qualified for the final of an able-bodied event – and also won gold in the multi-disability 50m and 100m freestyle, both in world record times.

David Dixon Award

Du Toit was presented with the first David Dixon award for the Outstanding Athlete of the Games at the closing ceremony.

She went on to compete in the Paralympic Games in Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012, winning 13 gold medals and two silver medals. She also competed in the 10-kilometre open water swim in the 2008 Olympics, finishing sixteenth.

That same year Du Toit carried the South African flag at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, making her the only person in history to have carried her country’s flag at both events.

After the 2008 Paralympics she was awarded the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award, which is presented at every Paralympic Games to one male and one female who best exemplifies the spirit of the Games and inspires and excites the world.

Later that year, she received the International Association for Human Values (IAHV) Youth Leadership Award at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Order of Ikhamanga

In December 2009, Du Toit was presented with the Order of Ikhamanga in gold by President Jacob Zuma. The award is made to South Africans who have excelled in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism, and sport. Gold is the highest level, followed by silver and bronze.

In March 2010, she was named the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability.

After winning a silver medal in her last competitive event, the 100 metres freestyle, at the 2012 London Paralympics, she told reporters: “I look back and realise I gave everything in the pool and gave everything as a person. It’s time to move on. I’ve no idea what’s next.”

An honorary OBE is what’s next. Du Toit will be presented with the award by His Royal Highness The Earl of Wessex at a ceremony in Pretoria in October.

Natalie (centre, front) with Vineyards SC coach Karoly von Törrös in Cape Town. Other  internationals in the photo include  Corne Swanepoel (New Zealand) and Sarah Poewe (Germany and South Africa).