Two-time Paralympian and World Champion Anrune Weyers is a double-finalist at the Momentum gsport15 Awards and she’s eager to get to know more women in sport so as to inspire and empower one another.
Weyers features in the Athlete with Disability category alongside powerhouses: wheelchair tri-athlete Catherine van Staden and South Africa’s wheelchair tennis ace, Kgothatso Montjane. She is up against Springboks Women’s skipper Babalwa Latsha and women’s singles national surf-ski Hayley Nixon in the highly contested Momentum Athlete of the Year category.
The 27 year old, who was born with a congenital defect in her left arm, says more can be done for para-athletes in South Africa and globally. After being bullied as a child for being different, Weyers says running has given her confidence.
She most recently (2019) won three medals at the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai, including a historic gold medal for Team South Africa in the 400m T47. That sensational performance earned her a place at the now postponed Tokyo Olympics.
Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic that has seen all sport come to a halt the world over, Weyers has had to come to terms with the postponement of what would’ve been her third Paralympic Games. Weyers is looking to soon retire and start a family with her husband. Will she come back next year for the Games? Lonwabo Nkohla finds out.
Congratulations!!! A finalist in two categories, what was your reaction when you saw that you were a double finalist?
Thank you so much. I was overwhelmed and very grateful that I have the privilege to be a finalist in two categories. Last year, 2019, was an incredible year on the sporting field and I feel honoured that I have the opportunity to make Paralympic sport and women sport grow and to be acknowledged in South Africa for my performances that I had on the track. I also say it’s not always just about the performances but it’s about the impact that you can have afterwards and the platform that you can use to inspire people and to use all the opportunities that come my way in a positive way.
You’ve represented the country on very big stages, receiving the most coveted medals. How does it feel to be recognised by other women, on a platform for women?
“It’s an honour and a privilege to represent your country, it’s a dream of mine since I was young. I always say put it on a paper, work towards it, make sure you have self-discipline, commit to it and have passion and you use the gift you’ve been given.” – Anrune Weyers.
It’s an honour and a privilege to represent your country, it’s a dream of mine since I was young. I always say put it on a paper, work towards it, make sure you have self-discipline, commit to it and have passion and you use the gift you’ve been given. I believe my gift that GOD gave me is running. I am privileged to use it to glorify his name. All those medals are because it’s all his glory that he supported me all the way, we are a team together. There have been challenging times, there were times when I had injuries, there were times I felt I can’t do it but at the end of the day the most valuable thing is not always the medal but the journey towards that.
It’s all about that four year cycle, that moment, when you and your group, family, friends, your coach and gym trainer, everybody involved in making sure that you are ready for that one race. It’s that journey that’s more valuable for me. It’s that moment when we laugh on the track, the moments where we can high five each other and hug each other when you ran an incredible race. That moment when you don’t understand how you finished a training session but you did it. The moment where your coach pushes you to be the best athlete version of yourself that you can be. It’s that moment when you finish that line and you have incredible goosebumps on your body and you have your family and friends celebrating with you and your team. That’s something that’s magical.
Being a women in sport – we are not equal to men and I think gsport is providing a platform for us, but I also think the world is changing the perspective of how we look at sport, on and off the pitch. It’s great to be part of a lot of women and learn about different sporting codes and learning stories of different people, following them on Instagram and Facebook and see what they’re doing in their lives and their sporting careers. I’m grateful to be a finalist because I’m able to reach out to other women and finding out what their stories are and celebrating victories together in different sporting codes. That’s really special.
There’s no doubt growing up with a disability brought about its challenges, how have you navigated them?
Growing up with a disability has been really tough. I was bullied quiet a lot for being different, for not having a hand. I had so many insecurities about my freckles, my cool hair and fair skin, there were so many challenges for me to overcome but running helped me gain self-confidence. Running filled my heart, it made me realise that we are all different and unique. We have to use the plan that God has for us. Running has helped me overcome all the challenges that come with being disabled.
In the times we live in, we are more open and more people ask “what happened to you” in a decent way, which I respect and love. That’s what we need, we need to be more curious about things in a passionate and in a beautiful way. When I was young, people staring at me was really difficult. People shouldn’t be judged for their disability, they should be seen as who they really are. Not having a hand has opened so many doors for me, it helped me create a platform for people that have different insecurities to stand up and be proud of who they are.
You’ve spoken about your dissatisfaction in the lack of support for para-athletes in South Africa. What would you like to see change?
“There’s definitely lack of support for para-athletes in South Africa and in the world. Me voicing my dissatisfaction is not to say that I want us to be equal to the Olympics, I just think that we are not valued.” – Weyers on lack of support for para-athletes in South Africa.
There’s definitely lack of support for para-athletes in South Africa and in the world. Me voicing my dissatisfaction is not to say that I want us to be equal to the Olympics, I just think that we are not valued. A lot of people think it’s easy to be a para-athlete, you just train for 2 weeks and just go, but it’s not that easy, we are professional athletes, we train and prepare the same way. Sometimes we need to adapt and find different ways to do a lot of movements because of our disability.
What I’d love to see is for us to be valued for what we bring on and off the track. We need to get support in terms of brands and sponsorships, that’s one of our biggest struggles. Another disadvantage for us para-athletes is that we have more needs, like equipment and all and all of that is expensive.
I’m not saying I just want to get free clothes and want people to give me money. I want to help them invest in their brand as well and build their brand. We want to help brands achieve their dream, while they help us achieve our dreams. It’s team work.
Tokyo 2021 will be your third Paralympic Games, how did the postponement affect your training and preparations?
This year has been really tough. When we found out about it, I constantly reminded myself that this is not only affecting me but it’s affecting everybody. Yes it would’ve been my third Paralympic Games, the postponement does affect us a lot in our preparation but we will take it day by day and work with what we have. My home has become my gym, the track is the road or grass field. Hopefully things can change soon so that we can go back to training as we normally do.
You’ve hinted that this could be your last games, are you still planning to retire and why?
The reason for my retirement is because we want to start a family but I believe that my fire is still burning for athletics and while I still have this gift, platform and health, I will go and fulfil that dream. I will see how things will go. It was a big decision to decide to still continue, an emotional one because my mind was set on 2020 Paralympics being my last games but I still have a big passion so I’m excited to still run and go for it.
What message do you have for fellow women in sport in the country and the young ones that will come after you?
Set those goals, be realistic, write those goals down, put it in the cupboard with a picture on it, the time and place or the race you want to do on the sporting field. Work hard, commit to it and remember to love what you do. If you start losing that passion in the sporting field, try and ask yourself why you’re doing it and why you feel that way. If you know why you’re doing it, all the sacrifices will be worth it. Remember that you are beautiful, unique and radiant, you are worthy and loved.
For Women’s Month, I want to remind all the women out there that there’s only one of you, don’t compare yourself with someone else on and off the field. We have to empower each other rather than compare and celebrate victories together.