“I don’t Look Back with Regret” Odessa Swarts Empowers Young Athletes as South Africa Celebrates Freedom Day

Odessa Swarts, seated lower left in this special family photograph, has become somewhat of a national treasure to athletics in South Africa. It is a well-known fact that she is the mother to Olympic gold medal winning runner Wayde van Niekerk as well as South African Hockey player, Kayla Swarts. All Photo: Supplied

Well-known and popular as the mother of Olympic gold medal-winning runner Wayde van Niekerk and South African hockey player Kayla Swarts, Odessa Swarts has become a national treasure in South African athletics.

It’s no secret that Swarts faced challenges due to the apartheid regime in the country. Despite facing adversity, including bullying during her school years, Swarts found solace in athletics, which helped her carve out her place in the world.

Initially running barefoot, Swarts’ talent eventually earned her R500 at an athletics meet, allowing her to purchase her first pair of shoes. She credits her former teacher, Cliffie Booyen, for supporting her during her schooling years and helping her excel in athletics.

However, Swarts was faced with a tough decision when she became pregnant with her first son. She had to choose between continuing her athletics career and providing a better life for her child. 

Reflecting on her past, Swarts understands why things happened the way they did. “That was just in the time when South Africa was just able to participate in the Olympics, it was the same time that my son was born.”

“I have been asked the question about how I feel not being able to represent my country a lot, and now my son does. I was not born to be someone great, but I trust and believe that I was born to be the mother of greatness.” 

Former Athletic Great Odessa Swarts Doesn’s Allow Bygones to Hinder her Passion

“When I look at that statement I made many years ago, today I have two kids that will represent our family at the Olympics, my daughter (Kayla Swarts) as an SA hockey player and my son (Wayde van Niekerk) as a world record holder.

“I will always stick to that, that I wasn’t called to be great, I was called to be the mother of greatness, and because I have accepted that, I don’t look back at and regret that I wasn’t given opportunities. I believe my talent was given to me for me to prepare myself for who and what I had to raise in my kids, to raise them to the best that they were going to be.”

Swarts is currently coaching young women at a girls’ school in Bloemfontein, where she imparts life lessons she learned from her own experiences.

“Being a coach to young ladies, the fact that I was bullied as a young girl empowered me to give these young girls what I didn’t have, that role model, that supporter that would say in this group we do not bully, we support each other and we make sure that everyone is happy and we cheer each other on. Those are the life lessons I have learned and can instill in my current era that I am in.”

While Swarts wasn’t able to compete for her country, she recognizes that this is still a reality for many young athletes in her province.

“It’s such a joy for me to see that my kids can participate internationally because we can support them in that aspect but at the same time I am working in a province where some of our black and colored children are not able to go and represent even their province due to lack of funds.”

“I have seen it this year already, just in the past four months where athletes are not even able to come and participate at our Free State Championships due to funds because they don’t live in Bloemfontein,” said Swarts.

“So for me as a parent, it’s such a joy but at the same time, there is a downer to it for me because I work with these athletes every day and there are no funds to fund them to become who my kids are.”

Swarts’ dedication to helping young athletes has not gone unnoticed, and she was honored by gsport and inducted into the Hall of Fame for her contribution to sport in 2019.

It’s clear to see that Swarts is hellbent on creating a better future for the young female athletes in Bloemfontein and she is hoping that what lies ahead can only benefit up-and-coming sportswomen. 

“I am hoping that they would want to put in the hard work because we find with the young kids they feel everything just comes easy. It’s with the hardships and hard work that we become better, not just as humans but also as better athletes. I hope that the coaches that are currently working with all our young athletes do it for the love of sport not just to gain finances out of it. 

“For a lot of people these days it’s about what they can get out of it, but when we coach these young people we do it for the love of the sport, and we want to see the next generation grow and be the best they can be. If we always going to depend on and worry about the funds, you never going to get them up and running.”


Photo 1 Caption: Odessa Swarts, seated lower left in this special family photograph, has become somewhat of a national treasure to athletics in South Africa. It is a well-known fact that she is the mother to Olympic gold medal winning runner Wayde van Niekerk as well as South African Hockey player, Kayla Swarts. All Photo: Supplied

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