This lawyer swapped athletic glory for books and a better future


Matric students with hopes of studying at university have a lot to consider. Aside from choosing the right institution, there’s the small issue of what to do for the rest of your life. For Samkelo Radebe, the future was simpler. Having lost both of his arms as a child, he knew he’d have to follow an intellectual vocation to earn his living. He chose law, and became a sports star along the way.

Radebe’s sprinting talent was clear during his teenage years, but his career took off after school when he started representing South Africa in the 100m and 4x100m relay events. He experienced an incredible run of form over a three year period starting in 2010, when he came second in the 100m final at the Commonwealth Games. The following year he won gold in the World Championship relay and a year later repeated the feat at the London Paralympics. But it wasn’t all medals and celebrations.

Understanding that athletics couldn’t offer a sustainable long-term career, Radebe had been working towards his LLB at the University of Johannesburg. This arduous academic endeavour was made all the more challenging by his having to take time out to compete on the track. That Commonwealth-silver year was particularly bad for studies, as Radebe failed half of his subjects. He persevered and earned his qualification in six years. Last year Radebe was admitted as an attorney and has given up competitive sprinting to commit fully to his work. He may have banked gold, but Radebe’s ambitions are far from fulfilled.