Potgieter shares meaning, impact of IWAS Games


One year on from the last IWAS World Games and on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, South Africa's Kotie Potgieter shares her story.

When Kotie Potgieter’s leg was amputated at the age of 53, everything in her life changed.

The South African had gone through 19 operations to try to stop life-threatening infections spreading to the rest of her body.

In her own words: “I thought I would no longer be seen to be a “normal” woman.”

But one day during a hospital appointment, Potgieter’s physiotherapist introduced her to Cathy Landsberg. Landsberg enquired if Potgieter would go to see Johan Snyders at prosthetics company Iceexpress.

Snyder is also the founder of Jumping Kids, a charity with aims to provide disadvantaged children with prosthetics, and a huge advocate of Para sport.

“One of Johan’s questions were if I participated in sport. I told him that I did at school and up until 1995 I played basketball whilst in the army,” Potgieter said.

“Johan did an assessment for my prosthesis but kept on pushing that I should take up sport again. Very apprehensive/sceptical I started to do some training and every time I went to see him for an appointment he kept saying he wants to see me compete at the national Championships.”

In March 2017 Potgieter did just that. Competing in Port Elizabeth as part of the Gauteng team in javelin, discus and shotput, she won one gold and silver medal.

Suddenly Potgieter was targeting a new goal – the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS) World Games.

“Everyone was talking about IWAS and the IWAS Games and I thought: ‘Me, in my dreams – I’ll never get to go. I am not good enough and how could I, as a 54-year-old novice ever be able to compete against younger more experienced athletes?

“And then I got elected in the Master’s category! Suddenly I thought – my dream might just come true. I started to train very hard and my mood became so much more positive. I realised that to spite my age and impairment I could still achieve new goals.”

The South African, who had never left her country before, had made it onto the team list for the 2017 IWAS World Games in Vila Real de Santo Antonio in Portugal.

She would compete in the Masters category for athletes aged over 35.

“In Portugal I met the athletes from all over the world and although language was an obstacle sometimes we were all able to talk to each other with our knowledge of English,” Potgieter said. “I realised that everyone had an impairment, but everyone was “normal” and accepted each other without criticism.

“During the Games I discovered an unbelievable camaraderie between the athletes – that it wasn’t always only about winning but also about the people. Everyone helped each other and did not only think about themselves.”

 Despite not winning a medal, Potgieter left with something much more valuable.

“I will never ever forget what these IWAS Games meant to me! It didn’t only help me on an emotional level as I no longer feel disabled. I realised that to spite the fact that I had an amputation – everyone treated me as a normal person. I did not win a medal but the experience I had, no one can ever take away from me.  

“I so wish there were more masters competitions out these for us to compete in. I want women to realise that, to have an impairment is not the end of your life. Athletics and IWAS give us a platform achieve our full potential, to be part of something.”

The IWAS World Games feature a range of competitions in a variety of sports and age groups. Over the years they have become a key proving ground for athletes on their path to the Paralympic Games, as well as for those taking up sport later in life and at the end of their careers.

The next edition will take place in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, from 10-16 February.