Namibian swimmers focus on qualifying for Paris Paralympic Games

Namibia stands an excellent chance to be well-represented at the Paris Paralympic Games in 2024. This was said by the Namibia National Paralympic Committee's Treasurer, Jean-Paul Schmidt, at the Bank Windhoek Long Course National Swimming Championships. The event, which took place in Windhoek recently, welcomed four differently abled swimmers who participated for the first time in the history of Namibian swimming. They are twenty-nine-year-old Mateus Angula, twenty-six-year-old Caitlin Botha, eighteen and fifteen-year-olds Jerome Rooi and Namasiku van der Linden. Para Swimming is the sports term for swimmers with a physical, visual or intellectual impairment. The first step towards being a para swimmer is to join a swimming club. Once able to swim and race, the next step is for the swimmers to obtain an official para classification.

Under the hashtag #icandoanything, Angula, Botha, Rooi and Van der Linden finished all their races and broke some of their Personal Best (PB) times as they were cheered on by the other swimmers and supporters. Angula broke his PB by 1.00 seconds for the 100-meter freestyle and 2.48 seconds for the 50-meter backstroke. His new PB for these events is now 1:47.04 and 00:55.69. Nicknamed Spiderman due to his super agility, Angula is a wheelchair user who was born without legs.  Angula has already represented Namibia at various regional and international para-swimming events. Despite the cold water causing on muscle spasms, which makes swimming harder for Botha who has Cerebral Palsy (CP), she managed to knock off 1.01 seconds in the 100-meter breaststroke. Her PB for this event is now 4:00.20.

Rooi improved his PBs for the 50-meter freestyle and the 50-meter backstroke knocking off 16.72 and 10.35 seconds respectively. His PBs for these events now stand at 37.39 and 56.61 seconds. Rooi, who lost his left leg in 2017 only took up competitive swimming last year with great promise. Van der Linden, who was born with Down Syndrome and experiences intellectual developmental delays and physical challenges, improved her times for six out of nine events, with the best improvement of 20.59 seconds in the 200-metre Individual Medley (IM), achieving a PB of 4:34.46 seconds.

The swimmers said they prepared well and enjoyed the Bank Windhoek Long Course National Swimming Championships, which they used as preparations for international competitions. “Swimming improves our fitness level and takes us to places worldwide," said Angula. Botha echoed Angula's sentiments, adding that she looks forward to international competitions. Van der Linden said she aims to represent Namibia worldwide with her coaching team's help. Rooi shared that the contest was intense, but he trained hard beforehand. Adriaan Maritz, swimming coach to Botha, Rooi and Van der Linden, confirmed that his swimmers are training five times a week and that he is very proud of their achievements. The swimmers thanked Bank Windhoek, their coaches and everyone for allowing them to swim. They encouraged other swimmers and the youth to have faith and be strong in everything they do.

“We are thankful to have partners like Bank Windhoek sponsoring this event, which allows the para swimmers to improve their national and international rankings," said Schmidt. He emphasised that with the proper financial backing and more sporting platforms, the athletes can go far and compete in the Paris Paralympic Games in 2024.

An important step towards participation in regional and international swimming events, including Paris 2024, is the classification of the newcomers Rooi and Van der Linden, and the reclassification of Botha. Unfortunately, classifications are done outside of Africa and require substantial financial resources. The Paralympic Games is an occasional series of international multisport events involving physically and intellectually challenged athletes. France will host the next edition from August to September 2024. All Paralympic Games are governed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

Hosted by the Namibia Swimming Federation (NASFED), the Bank Windhoek Long Course National Swimming Championships saw 184 athletes from six clubs and the International Paralympic Committee participating in 1628 entries with 17 individual and five relay events. It was sanctioned by World Para Swimming and supported by the Namibia National Paralympic Committee (NNPC).

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