The world marvelled when Arina Nicolaisen broke the Senior World Record in the T38 800-m Female U20 event in Switzerland recently, but what people didn’t know was that it happened in spite of the fact that she has undergone five extensive surgeries since her early childhood because of cerebral palsy that has affected her right arm and leg as well as her left leg.
Her condition not only caused spasms but also uneven growth of the limbs. She broke the 18-year-old record through sheer determination and grit. The runner from Meisieskool Oranje, along with 17 other young athletes, represented South Africa at the 2019 World Para Athletics Junior Championships in Nottwil Switzerland, earlier this month. She broke the record in a time of 2:35, 83, which has been standing since 2001.
“I was with my mother when they announced that I had broken the world record. I was so happy as it was something I have been working for the past few years. It definitely is a dream come true and by achieving it, I was able to prove many people wrong who told me that I would not be able to,” said Nicolaisen.
When Nicolaisen had to let go of her beloved horse after it fell ill, little did she know that it would propel her to breaking a track record in Switzerland. For the 18-year-old, who has been affected by cerebral palsy since birth, horse riding became her therapy as well as an outlet for her competitive spirit as she had a difficult time keeping up with her able-bodied peers. After her horse, Spirit, had developed asthma, she took up track running.
Unfortunately, in 2016 she missed the provincial trials after needing to undergo another surgery to remove pins from her leg, and an infection followed.
“In January I started running with able-bodied athletes to improve my time. I was accepted to compete because of the time I ran against them and in that year I won three medals at the national trials,” said Nicolaisen.
While she is setting her sights on competing in the Paralympic Games, Nicolaisen expressed that her biggest dream is to help others to also reach their goals. “Para athletes do not always get the opportunities they need, which is sad because there are so many of them who have potential. I would like to open a centre one day where people can get the training and therapy that they need,” she explained.