Beijing - Natalie du Toit was named winner of the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award on Tuesday at the Paralympic Games in Beijing.
Dr Whang Youn Dai, after whom the award is named, will present the award to Du Toit and the male winner, Said Gomez of Panama, at the closing ceremony on Wednesday.
Whang, from South Korea, contracted polio at the age of three, but became that country’s first disabled female physician, and has dedicated her life to working for people with disabilities.
She instituted the award at the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul, South Korea, and South Africa’s Zanele Situ was the female recipient of it after the 2004 Paralympics in Athens.
Du Toit, who won five gold medals for the second consecutive Paralympics, was given the award after nominations were received from the chefs de mission of 24 countries, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and members of the press corps.
She was especially commended for her involvement with the Vista Nova School in Cape Town, a school for children with cerebral palsy and learning disabilities.
Du Toit paid tribute to Whang at a press conference on Tuesday, saying it was always gratifying to be recognised by someone who was a great inspiration and had made a difference throughout the world.
She invoked the words of former president Nelson Mandela, who famously said sport had the power to change the world: “I thank Dr Whang for giving me the opportunity to give something back to the community,” she said.
She also thanked the South African team for the support she had received in becoming the first amputee athlete to compete in the Olympics as well as the Paralympics, and she thanked the IPC and the people of Beijing for the remarkable event the city had staged.
Gomez, 44, was competing in his fifth Paralympics, but was travelling with national Paralympic Committee funding for the first time after he paid for his own trips on the first four occasions.
He is a visually impaired track athlete, and his father disapproved of his participation in sports to such an extent that he physically punished him when he retuned from training sessions.
He participated in the Barcelona Paralympics, winning a gold and a silver medal, and his father relented on his return, embracing his son and showing him off as a champion.
The farmer now coaches able-bodied and disabled children.