"The Paralympics will definitely add onto our own limits we set for ourselves regarding disabilities, and inspire us to dream big and live our lives as though nothing is impossible" Catherine, South Africa

Friday 16th September

Hailing from Cape Town, South Africa, Catherine Van Staden is a competing Triathlete and the proud owner of a Motivation Flying Start racing wheelchair. We caught up with her recently to find out her take on this year's Rio Paralympics and if she thinks it harnesses the power to transform the face of disability...

How did you first get into sport?

As a child growing up, I played any sport I had the opportunity to play. From tennis, to hockey, to netball, the main sports I played was in fact baseball and softball.

"I think to understand me better let me just explain my disability, I have a degenerative disease in my legs called Spastic Paralysis. Over time my legs become weaker and weaker and my balance becomes worse and worse, till such a time that I lose all my function in my legs. Therefore as a child, even though I was slow and walked with a limp, I still took part. After finishing school, I stopped playing sports all together, due to my disability, as I felt one couldn’t do sports if you had a disability.

Fifteen years later, and having a mind shift in my outlook towards my disability, I decided to take up sports again, beginning with swimming, and then lead into triathlons.

How did you first hear about Motivation?

"I work for an international Christian development organisation called CBM (Christian Blind Mission); similarly to Motivation, we are committed to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities in the poorest communities of the world. Not so long ago, I was involved in the running of a wheelchair project and had to purchase wheelchairs, and through this Motivation became one of our suppliers of wheelchairs.

How did you come to acquire your Flying Start Racing chair?

"When I first started looking into Triathlons, I was looking for a racing wheelchair, the high end wheelchairs were just too expensive for me to purchase, especially considering I was just taking up the sport and had no experience in using a racing wheelchair, or even if I would like the sport and would continue with it.

I saw that Motivation had an entry level chair – the Flying Start – and it made perfect sense to me, as it was a low cost chair and one which I could start with.

"If it didn’t turn out to be something I wanted to do, I hadn’t wasted nearly $3000 on a racing wheelchair, which is often the starting price for other racing wheelchairs."

How does taking part in sporting events, like the NYC triathlon, make you feel?

"Wow that’s a big question, and hard to answer, as I think I am still trying to figure out for myself what New York has done for me.

"The New York City Triathlon made me realise that I can go out and do what I set out to do, and that I don’t need the most top range of equipment or be a competitive athlete to go and race wherever I want.

I have learnt that any of us at any time in our lives can take what we have and go do what we dream of. For me it was racing in New York for others it could be big or small, but it doesn't matter the size of the dream it matters that we pursue them.

Do you think that sport has the power to change lives?

"Yes, totally, you know to be honest - it changed mine. I was at a really tough place back in 2012. My disability was just getting the better of me and I allowed it to over take my life and dictate what I could or couldn’t do.

Sport has shown me that my disability doesn’t dictate my life and that actually I can use my disability to my advantage.

"Yes it might look different to what I had envisaged sport was when I was a child, but for me, it's that I have been able to pick up on my love for sport and we think of ways I can do sport despite my disability. Without sport for me, I can securely say, I would be worse off than I am."

What do you hope will be the legacy of the Rio Paralympics? Do you think the Paralympics has the power to break down barriers and change the face of disability?

"I think we only have to look at the success of the London 2012 Paralympics to realise that it can break down barriers and change the face of disability. Rio Paralympics will be interesting to see how receptive it is. We are talking a very different country, and different culture. I think for me, is that it will break down barriers, as people in the country might have perceived ideas of disability, and having the opportunity to witness the Paralympics in real life, not just watching it on TV or online, will have a very different impact for the people in Rio.

For those of us witnessing from afar, it will definitely add onto our own limits we set for ourselves regarding disabilities, and inspire us to dream big and live our lives as though nothing is impossible.

Have you ever been to watch a Paralympic games in person?

I have not unfortunately, but if the opportunity ever presents itself I will be there...it's one of those bucket list things!

Do you hope to one day compete in the Paralympics yourself?

There was the thought, back in 2012 to aim for the 2016 Paralympics for swimming, but I soon realised this was not going to happen. I do keep the thought in the back of my heart to maybe consider 2020, but it would be for triathlon.

For me, I am at this point aiming for another form of “Paralympics” and that is the Ironman World Championships which is considered the "Olympics" of Ironman races.

Which sport are you most excited about watching at the Paralympics?

Triathlon, as this will be the first time triathlon will be featured at the Paralympics.

Tell us who you think are ‘the ones to watch’. Do you have your eye on any athletes in particular?

I think if I could watch all the sports at the same time, I would, all of the athletes should be watched!

I will want to definitely watch the triathletes. Unfortunately no South African triathletes will be racing, but I will keep my eyes on Patty Collins and Krige Schabort both from the USA.

I had the opportunity to meet Patty Collins in New York, and she has an amazing story, and a heart for people, especially those who have a disability. 

To follow Catherine's journey why not visit her blog: http://avoice-enabled.blogspot.co.uk/