The recent TotalSports Two Oceans Marathon focused on the top contenders with Gerda Steyn, winning the women’s category and Edndale Belachew winning the men’s category.
What some may not know is that Paralympic medalist, Louzanne Coetzee, along with her guide, Claus Kempen, were pacers in the Two Oceans Half Marathon race for runners aiming to break two hours for the distance.
“A pacer is basically somebody who has a target time, and they assist other runners in running that time goal, so the other runners can just look at the pacer to see how to pace themselves to achieve their own specific goal whatever the time may be, so it’s basically somebody to just assist you and guide you in running a time that you want to aim for,” said the Paralympian.
Coetzee won silver in the women’s 1,500m T11 and bronze in the Marathon T12 at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo last year.
“It really felt awesome. It was a big privilege for me to be able to sort of support other runners in that way. And we used it as a training run, so basically what we did was use it as part of our training regime, so just sort of part of our programme. Once we knew for certain that we were going to pace, we sort of worked it into our training programme as a training run,” Coetzee explained.
The athlete was born with Leber congenital amaurosis, a condition that results in undeveloped retinas and loss of vision.
“I grew up in Bloemfontein in the Free State. I am blind. I have what they call Leber congenital amaurosis. Basically it just means that my retinas didn’t develop properly when I was in my mom’s womb, so, basically, I was born blind, so it’s something that I’ve always lived with,” she said.
She competes in the T11 category for athletes with the highest level of visual impairment.
The University of Free State student-athlete said that her aim was to use the platform afforded to her by the Two Oceans Marathon to gain exposure to para-athletes.
“I think it’s very important for athletes with disabilities to be visible at such events because I think it allows creating awareness in regard to the sport, and it allows the running community as a whole to interact with disabled athletes and to see them for the human beings that they really are, so I think it’s very important,” Coetzee said.
Coetzee’s other achievement is breaking the world record in the T11 women’s 5,000m in 2018.
“I would like to see Para-sport grow obviously within the next five years and I think what needs to be done is to increase coverage, create more awareness, and for there to be a bit more focus on Para-sport as well as able-bodied athletes,” said Coetzee, bringing up the issue of visibility and representation in the media of disabled athletes.
The completely blind track, road, and cross-country Paralympian started her running career in her first year at the University of the Free State (UFS) at the age of 19.
“I started running in my first year at university at a recreational level and competing for my residence at an athletics track meet. After that, I started to get coaching for sprints, but that didn’t work out, so I moved over to longer distances. And then I actually competed at my first national championships in my second year at university,” she said.
The 29-year-old trains six days a week and five of those days she trains twice a day, but she doesn’t do this alone – she works with her guides, Claus Kempen and Erasmus Badenhors.
“I have two main running guides who I think not to sound strange, but I think God sent them across my way. I have a guide for road running and I have a guide for track running,” she explained.
Coetzee has broken the 5,000m world record, 1,500m African record in her disability category (T11).
And on Thursday, she will take part in the senior championships at the Green Point Athletics Stadium in Cape Town.