Living the dream - Ntando MahlanguOn his first visit to the Jumping Kids Prosthetic Fund, Ntando Mahlangu made it clear; ‘I just want to run’.

Jumping Kids is a charity that provides access to latest technology prosthetics, and rehabilitation, to children living with lower limb amputations. It was founded by Johan Snyders in 2009. Ntando was born with a condition known as Hemimelia, a disease that confined him to a wheelchair for most of his young life. After being referred to Jumping Kids in 2012, the decision was made to amputate both his legs above the knee, and fit him with prostheses. Usually, young beneficiaries are fitted with a walking solution first but, since Ntando was quite clear about his expectations, he received a set of ‘blades’ at a media event arranged by Avis South Africa in September of that year. Within weeks he was running!

14 Year old Mahlangu is a grade 7 learner, he was kept back one year when he made the move from an English school to an Afrikaans school. Yes, this young man is fluent in Afrikaans. The youngster from Mpumalanga created a stir at the 2015 Nedbank National Championships for Physically Disabled when he, at the age of 13, broke the majority of records in T42 division. Although the results were ‘unofficial’ due to his age, his performance, and that of four of his Is Ability Sports Club team mates, secured the go-ahead to compete at the IWAS (International Wheelchair and Amputee Sport) World Junior Games that took place in Stadskanaal, Netherlands in July 2015.

The team brought back nine medals and, after another world class performance, Ntando won the IWAS Athlete with International Potential Award.  At this year’s Nedbank Championships for Physically Disabled in Bloemfontein (21-23 March), Ntando set two African Records and a 400m T42 World Record (53.19s). He followed up by bettering his World Record three times at the ASA Sub-Youth, Youth, Junior and Under-23 Championships that took place in Germiston recently.

“It is a privilage having a world record, very few people get those in a life time”, says Mahlangu.

At this event the youngster blitzed to a 51.36 seconds win in the Boys U16 (Sub Youth) 400m heats. He followed that with an even better mark for the fastest fourth place finish (51.11s) in the semi’s, and topped that with a 50.08 seconds dash in the final for third place. He also ran in the 300m portion of the Boys under-16 Medley Relay, helping Gauteng North team to a win and adding a gold medal to his bronze at the championships.

Cathy Landsberg, a lower limb amputee herself, is a Physiotherapist with an interest in sport. She met Ntando at the beginning of 2015 while standing in for Jumping Kids physiotherapist, Elmarie Smit, who was on maternity leave. Having just completed a coaching course, Cathy was approached by Snyders to assist with Ntando’s training. “He is a pleasure to work with because he gives it his all. Even on the days that he is a bit deflated, and not so keen, once we start the warm-up he is 100% committed,” says Landsberg. They train at Tuks stadium most of the time. Ntando says that Cathy is the best coach in the world, that they never fight or disagree and that she understands him.

“I don’t have a problem running against able-body athletes. Being selected to represent my province is an honour. It shows me that my training is on track to reach my Paralympic goals,” says Ntando. Although attaining Rio qualifying times, Ntando is not assured of selection to the team headed for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games in September. Since there are not enough competitors globally to warrant a 400m T42 item at the Games, Ntando’s chances rest on the 200 meter dash.

“The 200m is my favourite so, I am hopeful. If it does not happen this year, it is fine. I am still young and there are many things to look forward to,” he concludes. Such wise words from a 14 year old boy. We are humbled bu his attitude, passion and determination.

Written by: Liezel van Rensburg for Backtrack Sports

Photo credit: Martin Potgieter