When a tragic train accident took both his legs and right arm in 1998, Lucas Sithole (26) accepted his situation but assumed a positive attitude to life.
The Paralympian, who turns 27 on September 30, saw his name go into the tennis history books last Sunday, when he became the first African to win a Quad Grand Slam. He triumphed 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 over world number one David Wagner.
Sithole fell in love with tennis in 2005 and started competing internationally a year later.
“Tennis is an individual sport and as a person who likes being independent, I chose it,” said the SA Quad Division number one.
In answering the question on how life was before tennis, Sithole tells a typical story of a township boy who grew up kicking a soccer ball on the streets of Dannhauser in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
He did his basic schooling at Siphuthando Public School in Emafusini until the life-changing tragedy happened.
“I was helping a train driver from an agricultural storage at the area where they stored meat and wheat. I changed the railway lines, moving back to the train which was moving slowly. I fell underneath, was run over and lost both legs and my right arm,” he explained.
Registering at a school for pupils with disabilities at Emadadeni township in KwaZulu-Natal led to him accepting that life would never be the same.
Today, 37 career titles in seven years bear testimony to his winning spirit.
Self-respect, acceptance and confidence have been the cornerstone of his success, according to the free-spirited Sithole, who adds that he always puts himself first in everything he does in life.
As for the Grand Slam win that caught the attention of people across the world, “it was a victory for the disabled sons and daughters of the motherland”, he said.
“I knew that I was not representing myself but all the people living with disabilities on the African continent.”
He is now focusing on the US Masters, which takes place in November.
International ranking: Number 2
National ranking: Number 1
Career titles: 37
Most significant achievements: British Open 2013 and US Open 2013 champion, qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics and becoming the first African player to win a Super Series Event and a Grand Slam, defeating seven players ranked in the international top 10 and four victories against world number one David Wagner in 2013
Most significant awards: 2010 SA Disabled Sportsman of the Year and 2010 Gauteng Disabled Sportsman of the Year
Disability: Triple amputee
Strengths: Competitive character, speed and agility, and the will to win
Tennis aspirations: Become number one in the world and win a medal at the 2016 Paralympics
Coach Holger Losch on Sithole
What makes Sithole a special player?
His brilliant eye and ability to compete.Throw any challenge to him and he will live up to it.
Did you see his maiden Grand Slam victory coming?
Since we started working together seven years ago, I’ve always known he had potential. But obviously there’s a long road in seeing that potential and seeing something as great as this happen.
He exceeded our expectations, but proved that hard work pays and it’s very good for our preparations for 2016 (Paralympics in Brazil). He now needs to be consistently in the top four, which will guarantee regular appearances in Grand Slams.
Your take on his progress over the past seven years?
Outstanding. Lucas is a special story. It’s very difficult to pick up a racquet for the first time and win a Grand Slam seven years later. Most players in the top 10 have been there for more than 10 years, but some have never won a Grand Slam. He has got a long and bright career ahead.
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