“Don’t be scared to take on challenges ‘above’ your
capabilities if it is something you believe in. Yes, it is not going to come
easy, but if you commit to it and stay true to yourself, you will have the
resilience to persevere through tough times.”
With these words Stellenbosch University (SU), graduate
Anika Pretorius hopes to inspire others to also achieve their dreams.
The Gauteng native recently received a Master of Science
(MSc) in Sports Science (cum laude) during a small graduation ceremony held by
the SU Department of Sport Science.
Anika, a visually disabled student and Paralympic athlete,
says she “personally had to learn to not be ashamed” of her disability and to not
try to hide it.
“I realised that people accept me for who I am and quickly
forget that I can’t see well. I don’t have to prove myself. I’ve always
embraced a challenge; therefore, one of the reasons I love Sport Physiology is because
it looks at the potential of physiological adaptation to a challenge,” says Anika.
Her Master’s research looked at how participants’ energy
metabolism during short, repeated sprints (similar to popular field- and court
sports) responded physiologically to the “challenge” of a 6-week
According to her supervisor, Prof Elmarie Terblanche, being
part of Anika’s academic journey was a blessing and a privilege. “Anika
reminded me at a time when I desperately needed it, why I chose a career in
academia. She challenged me, as her study leader, on many levels. Together we
also learnt and grew as human beings.”
Terblanche says she was astonished by Anika’s perseverance
and resilience throughout her studies. She also admits that she was “very
sceptical in the beginning” and could not imagine how Anika would cope with all
the equipment and laboratory work.
“It is really astonishing that Anika learned to conduct all
the exercise tests in the lab, as it is complicated and a lot of things happen
at the same time. She also performed all the data analysis herself, which
obviously took her much longer compared to anyone else. Anika’s study
highlighted a couple of new research hypotheses, which I am very keen to
investigate. It was not always bliss in the laboratory; however, there were
many more episodes of utter joy and laughter and working as a team to get the
job done,” says Terblanche.
Despite all the challenges Anika faced, she still managed to
balance her studies along with training for the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
In 2012, she was selected to represent South Africa in the
long jump event for visually impaired athletes (T13) at the Paralympic Games in
London. She missed the 2016 Rio Paralympics Games due to injury and hopes for
success at the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Her focus will be on the 100 m
“The Olympics is a dream that I’ve had since childhood –
even before I became visually impaired – but came true in a different way than
what I ever would have imagined. I think the Paralympics is even better than my
initial Olympic dream, because it reminds me constantly about the grace of God
and it keeps me humble to be surrounded by other amazing athletes who have overcome
so much in their lives,” says Anika.
She is currently also involved in the coaching of young
Para-athletes and hopes to continue her research while also teaching and helping
others who struggle academically.