Wheelchair tennis player
In 2013, Lucas Sithole (29) made wheelchair tennis history by becoming the first African to win a Grand Slam event by taking the US Open title. Early in 2016, the current world number three also added the Australian Open doubles title — the first of his career — to his incredible list of accomplishments.
Such accomplishments seem a far cry from his roots, the dusty coal mining town of Dannhauser in KwaZulu-Natal. He was just an ordinary boy from the township when tragedy struck in 1998. Sithole and a friend were helping load a goods train and checked the direction of the railway line for the driver. On returning to the slow-moving train, his friend jumped into the carriage but Sithole slipped and fell underneath the train. He lost both legs and his right arm. For many, it would have been an insurmountable challenge to come back from.
Admittedly, Sithole said it was a challenging time for him. “To believe that everything was going to be fine was hard. But things changed when my mom registered me to go to a special needs school.” Embracing his second chance in life, he joined the school tennis team and fell in love with the sport.
“Tennis is my life. After playing my first international tournament in Holland in 2005, I knew this was something I wanted to do.”
And do it he has. His best single ranking came in 2013 when he was second in the world; he now boasts an impressive 209 wins and 83 losses in his career (as at May 29 2016).
But that is not stopping him from setting his sights even higher: Sithole is targeting a Paralympic gold in Rio later this year. The 2014 recipient of the South African Order of Ikhamanga, which recognises citizens who have excelled in the fields of arts, culture, literature, music, journalism and sport, clearly has found a new passion for life. — Iwan Pienaar