South African Olympian, Wenda Nel, is currently on course to earn qualification for this year’s Olympics in Tokyo as she plans to represent the country at her second Games of her career.
Nel made her Olympic debut at Rio 2016, a moment she regards as a highlight of her athletics career to date.
For 12 years, the 400m hurdler has dominated tracks across the globe, admitting that she remains motivated by reminding herself of the little girl who fell in love with the sport from a young age and is now living her sporting dream.
The 32-year-old, who recently ran to victory at the ASA Athletix Invitational Meet, is grateful to be in good form after suffering a blow when she contracted Covid-19.
Nel was uncertain of how she would recover from the virus but is now grateful to be able to compete again in what she has described as a strange period for everyone globally.
Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Nel gives insight on competing during Covid-19 times and reveals athletes’ struggles with financial support in the country.
Wenda, first up, congratulations on your recent 400m hurdles victory at the ASA Athletix Invitational Meet. What is competing on the track like these days during Covid-19 times?
Different ;-). Although, to be a professional athlete, one should always be adaptable as things may change last minute, whether it is travel arrangements, competition changes or an unexpected injury. I am, however, extremely grateful to be able to be back on the track racing. What Covid/lockdown once again highlighted is to take nothing for granted and respect every opportunity in life.
How has the past year been for you and your career?
Not being able to train effectively for the first part of lockdown and then not competing for a year, has definitely raised some challenges. It was, however, an interesting period to reflect, gain some extra perspection and revisit some goals. In a way, I’ve gained so much within such a strange year.
“I was uncertain how I will recover from it with regards to my training and getting back to full form as soon as possible.” – South African Olympian, Wenda Nel, speaks on contracting Covid-19.
We know that you are a Covid-19 survivor. What was that period like for you, especially having to get back into full fitness after your recovery?
To be honest, at first it was a scary feeling to have tested positive for Covid-19. I think for the reason being that we still had so little information about it, and I was uncertain how I will recover from it with regards to my training and getting back to full form as soon as possible. I took things conservatively getting back to training with assistance from my incredible team I’m working with, but I’ve regained my fitness and I’m grateful and excited to be able to compete again in a healthy form.
For 12 years you have dominated race tracks around the globe. What keeps you motivated to still go out and do your best?
Since I can remember, I fell in love with this sport, and I continue to remind myself to do it for that little girl. Yes, off course I had many setbacks and challenges throughout my career, but the passion and enjoyment I get from participating in track outweighs it all. This sport has taught me so much in life, I will forever be grateful for the career I could have made from it. For everyone it will be different, but I will always motivate others to remember your WHY and hold onto that for as long as it brings you joy.
With this being an Olympic year, what is your current situation to see you qualify for Tokyo?
I am very optimistic and excited to punch my ticket to the Games. My goal is to qualify as soon as possible, and I will use every opportunity to do so.
You previously competed at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, how was that experience for you?
It was a dream come true. It was, however, quite daunting as well. It is considered the biggest sporting event in the world and a goal for so many athletes. Although I was extremely nervous to compete there, I will forever be grateful to be an Olympian. It is one of my most special moments in my sporting career.
What would you like to do differently this time around on the basis that you do compete in Tokyo?
I feel I’ve gained a lot more experience in the last few years and I would like to use that to my advantage. I will also embrace the opportunity of being at the Games, much more.
For those athletes going to the Olympics for the first time, what is the best advice you would share with them?
Don’t get caught up in how big the event is and remember to enjoy the experience.
“Getting enough financial support is one of the bigger challenges in our sport.” – Nel speaks on the challenges athletes face with financial support.
Looking at the financial aspect of South African athletes going to compete at events like the Olympics, what is the process to getting the financial backing as we know some athletes have to fork out large sums of money just to represent the country?
Getting enough financial support is one of the bigger challenges in our sport. I can only comment out of personal experience as it will be different for all athletes. I am fortunate to have personal sponsors who assist with my financial backing. I also believe as an individual, one should seek to ask for assistance on how to work with your money to help you help yourself as well. If you are granted an opportunity, use it wisely.
How do you think this situation can be changed so that athletes don’t have to worry about finding ways to fund themselves?
We so often like to complain first about what we don’t have. I believe if you start using what you have to the best of your ability, enjoy the sport and show some GRIT, then you might just be given an opportunity to pursue your dreams further.
Which women in sport inspire you and why?
I can honestly not name just one:-) I get inspired by so many women around me on an everyday basis and I do believe we can all learn something that can help us grow as an individual from one another.
If I have to mention just one, Allysson Felix (USA Track athlete) has been one of the women I’ve admired over the years. Following her career has been very inspiring to see how she chases her goals, comes back from setbacks and shows grit in sport and also in life.
Outside of athletics, what other opportunities have you been afforded?
I’m fortunate to be a Qualified Dietitian. It has helped me in so many ways being a professional athlete as well.
What does the future of Wenda Nel look like, according to the plans you have in place?
I do believe that it is important to have the ability to plan and think about future plans. However, the last year has highlighted once again how easy plans can change. Therefore, I have peace about my future. I have a few things I would like to do and try once my athletics career as a professional athlete has come to an end, but for now I am enjoying myself as an athlete competing, going for that Olympic qualification.
Photo 1 Caption: South African Olympian, Wenda Nel, is currently on course to earn qualification for this year’s Olympics in Tokyo as she plans to represent the country at her second Games of her career. Photo: Wenda Nel (Instagram)