Natalie du Toit, star swimmer and role model, says forgiving has contributed to her phenomenal success. She spoke to Karien Jonckeere as Heartlines, a campaign to promote positive values, gathers steam.
Natalie du Toit’s life changed forever in February 2001, when a young woman drove into her scooter. She lost a leg. It would have been perfectly understandable if Du Toit, who was just at the beginning of her international swimming career when the accident happened, gave up and wallowed in self-pity. But she chose a different path and says that her decision to forgive the other driver allowed her to move on to a different life – one which has produced the most phenomenal success.
Du Toit started swimming at the age of six, but it wasn’t until she joined top coach Karoly van Toros at age 14 that she realised she could make it internationally. Having already competed at the Commonwealth Games in 1998, Du Toit’s next dream was to go to the Olympics, and despite everything that has happened since then, it still is.
Du Toit recalls the day of the accident with intense clarity. “In 2000 I just narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Sydney Olympics and I was a bit down about that, but I came back with a vengeance and was training really hard for nationals the following April so I could qualify for international events,” explains Du Toit. “I had just come back from a competition on the Sunday afternoon and I had a biology test that Monday. I got back at about 4pm and was really tired so I went to sleep and woke up at 12 to study. “Then at 4am I got my school stuff and headed to the pool to train. I told my mom I was really tired and she suggested I go back to bed, but I was already dressed so I thought I might as well just go and got on my scooter.
“I trained for an hour or so and then on my way back a woman took a short cut through a parking lot and didn’t stop dead at the stop street and pulled out into me. She basically drove into my leg and I landed in a sitting position with my legs out in front of me.
“There wasn’t too much blood, but I saw what my leg looked like and I think I knew then already that I had lost my leg. It was broken in three places and my foot was one way, my knee one way and the rest of my leg one way.”
Du Toit’s leg had to be amputated above the knee and says that even as she lay in the hospital bed, all she wanted to do was get back in the pool. That she did just a few months later. By the following year she produced a stellar performance at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester where she won two gold medals in events for athletes with a disability. She then also went on to qualify for the final of the able-bodied 800m freestyle, later being named as the most outstanding athlete of the Games. Since then, Du Toit has taken the Paralympics by storm, winning five golds in Athens in 2004. She has broken so many world records she has lost count. In addition she is in constant demand as a motivational speaker.
And it’s her upbeat attitude and positive outlook that has so inspired the thousands of people she has addressed.
“Obviously my life has changed dramatically, but a lot of good has come from it as well. I just had to realise that my life had changed and had to make the most of it,” reckoned Du Toit.
“The thing is, it could happen to anyone. It was a freak accident and I believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t have any bad feelings towards the woman who drove into me. She was very young and I just hope she learned from it.
“I have never met her since then, but her parents once came to a talk I did and they spoke to me and then to my mom afterwards. Other than that, we haven’t had too much contact.
“I think it’s very important to forgive, otherwise you aren’t able to carry on in the future. If you dwell on the past the whole time, you just get yourself down and that’s depressing. You have to make the best of every situation.
“You have to move forward and forgive and hope that the person has learned something from the whole thing. Everyone is here to learn and bad things are going to happen. You don’t necessarily forget because that’s now part of my life and part of my story.” – Heartlines Features.
By Karien Jonckeere.