MARK ETHERIDGE: Amputee athlete Puseletso Mabote keeps flying to the front
The Nigel-born youngster with a blade leg boasts 200m and 400m world records, and he’s not yet 18
Just a week ago, people in the Western Cape and SA were witnessing impressive progress by the latest generation of amputee athletes as young Puseletso Mabote again flew to the fore.
The latest maker of good news in para-athletics is Nigel-born Mabote, who turns 18 next month but already boasts two world records in the form of the 200m and 400m events, both in the T63 classification class for single-leg above-the-knee amputees.
He broke both those records at the SA Sports Association for the Physically Disabled (SASAPD) Championships in Cape Town with times of 25.99sec and 1min 01.85sec respectively.
Just for good measure, he also set a new national long jump record in the same category, soaring to a 5.70m best.
Mabote hadn’t yet turned five when a truck crashed into the family vehicle as it was turning into the schoolgrounds in 2010, but he says he can barely remember the incident.
“It all happened so fast and I was so young. Thankfully I don’t have any flashbacks of the event,” he says almost nonchalantly. “At that point I just adapted to circumstances, and apparently the younger you are the easier it is to adapt and heal faster — so I just made the best I could.”
He also had to have a large sliver of glass removed from his forehead, but the permanent damage and lifelong challenge was the loss of his right leg from just above his knee.
He admits things were quite challenging for the next two or three years. “Getting around with one-and-a-half legs on crutches can be very tricky,” he says.
But then things changed when his path crossed that of Jumping Kids and Icexpress. The former had only been launched by prosthetist Johan Snyders a year before Mabote’s tragedy while the latter is an Ossur prosthetic accredited facility.
Both have been life-changing facilitators for Mabote. “I got my first prosthetic leg from hospital, but it wasn’t great quality ... then around three years after the accident I got a proper leg and then a blade which allowed me to run and be more mobile.
“Since then I’ve had two or three more blades but I’ve also still got a very good ‘everyday’ leg.”
Jumping Kids director Mike Stevens, himself a victim of a devastating electrocution accident in his youth, has been a constant enabler of Mabote moving up through the ranks. “Apart from his injury, it was important for me to get him into a good school, both for networking and access to top resources.
Our next goal is a dual one — the Paris Olympics and a good matric next year.Mike Stevens
“He’s always been highly motivated ... look, there are no guarantees but I want to see him develop in all spheres. He has the abilities to do everything.”
Mabote is now a grade 11 pupil at King Edward VII School in Johannesburg and says not once has he felt any different to his fellow pupils.
“It was a matter of all the boys first learning about my disability and now I’m just part of the boys, am treated no differently and it’s all just a big brotherhood.”
Stevens (a former KES pupil himself) adds: “Myself and Puseletso’s paths crossed when his surgeon [Dr Brooke Puttergill, who happens to be a childhood friend of mine] got in touch with me to say she thought he had good athletics potential.
“So we first sorted him out with a ‘walking’ leg and then a blade as he got more serious. We sent him to two international competitions and his potential really came through with a world record [at the World Para Athletics Junior Championships that took place in Nottwil, Switzerland].
“Our next goal is a dual one — the Paris Olympics and a good matric next year,” Stevens says.
Mabote adds that he’s “in Grade 11 now and my favourite subject is EGD [engineering graphics and design]”.
All of which should stand him in good stead for his post-school career — apart from on the athletics tracks around the world, that is. “Ideally, I’d like to get into the architecture field, I find it fascinating and really like it so much.”
For the moment though his building blocks are more track and field-orientated starting blocks rather than those used in construction.
Going into the SASPD Championships, he says the 200m was his main goal. “It was my main mission to break my own world record, which I did, so that proved my body was in good shape.
“The 400m was actually something of an afterthought. I ran it just to see where my body was.”
After turning the afterburners on for those 61.85sec, “my body is clearly in world-record form”, he says.
The Paris Paralympics are just a year away and though he would love to be able to do all of his events there (the 100m is also one of his events), only two of his four T63 events will be on the programme.
But the structuring suits him to perfection. “Firstly, I love the 100m, it’s such an intense and quick-fire race and then I’m also progressing so well in the long jump.”
Next year is going to a major one for Mabote with both Paralympics and matric in his sights because, as Stevens says, good marks are important both on and off the field.
But Mabote is a young man on the move and South Africans should be certain he’s comfortably going to take both goals in his stride.
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