This athlete set a national record after learning to walk again
Rikenette Steenkamp’s career was on track. The hurdler had national titles to her name, and was confident of her potential to be the South African champion. But Steenkamp couldn’t ignore the excruciating pain in her leg every time she jumped over the hurdles. In 2016, doctors discovered an extra bone in her ankle which required surgery to remove. She was booked off sport for almost two years, unable to practice running or jumping. It almost broke her spirit. Steenkamp spent what seemed like endless months in rehabilitation. She went from being a sports star on the rise, to learning how to walk again.
“The operation crippled me, emotionally and physically,” she says. While her competitors continued to train, improve, and surge ahead, Steenkamp had to start from the beginning. “It felt like I was left behind by the world and forgotten,” she says. During this time, the athlete refocused on her strength. “I said to myself, ‘You will come back. You will run again’,” Steenkamp says. She constantly reminded herself of what had brought her this far. “I’m an outstanding athlete because of my character, my style, my rhythm, my speed, and my joy,” she says.
Steenkamp’s return in 2017 was an impressive show of her mettle. Coming in from the back, she took first place at almost every meet. And that was just the beginning. Steenkamp had her sights set on making history. For two decades, the South African women’s 100-metre hurdles record set in 1998 by Corien Botha remained unbroken. Steenkamp defined comeback season when she soared over the hurdles at a meeting in Prague last month to beat Botha’s time. A few weeks later, Steenkamp improved her time, setting the national 100-metre record at 12.81 seconds.
“Nothing can keep you from your destiny,” Steenkamp says. For someone who decided to be an athlete when she was just six years old, Steenkamp has proven that this isn’t something she just does. It’s who she is. “I just love being on the track and being light on my feet,” she says. “It’s total freedom.” Even in the face of agonising pain and crippling injury, Steenkamp displayed the confidence of a woman who knows her capabilities and won’t allow them to be stifled. “Challenges don’t prevent you from your calling,” she says. “It prepares you for it.”