A story of determination

At Icexpress, we are fortunate to have a number of ‘seniors’ as clients. Some of whom have even gone on to compete in Masters Athletics on an international level. Kotie Potgieter is one such individual.

Born in Pretoria and raised in Bloemfontein, Kotie matriculated from Hoërskool Vryburger in 1980 and promptly signed up for basic training at the South African Army Women’s College (SAAWCOL) in George.

“Both my parents served in the South African Defence Force. It was my dream to make officer and to serve my country but, it was not to be,” she says.

The proud mother of two went on to work in the physically demanding field of construction, first as Site Manager and then Health and Safety Officer. That was before the amputation of her leg in 2015.

“In 2011 I had knee replacement surgery and all went well. Then, in 2013, my son and I were involved in a road accident which caused the prosthetic to shift. I underwent another knee replacement but, the leg was never the same”.

After 26 hospital visits, of which 19 were for operations, septicaemia set in and amputation was the only option.

“I think it was my stubborn determination not to lay down, combined with the support of family and friends that got me through it. That episode in my life made me realize that I am much stronger than I thought I was”.

Kotie’s physiotherapist (at the time) introduced her to Cathy Landsberg – herself a physiotherapist but, more importantly, also an amputee. It is helpful for ‘new amputees’ to meet to other who faced similar challenges. Even better to see first-hand that, with the correct prosthetic equipment in place, life goes on.

When the time came to consult a Prosthetist, Landsberg  introduced Kotie to Johan Snyders.

“I was terribly afraid but Johan and his team took me under their wing and I was immediately at ease. My first steps were challenging. It was as if I had forgotten how to walk and it felt very strange to use the prosthetic equipment”.

Before long, Kotie joined IsAbility Sports Club. Athletics has proved to be an excellent rehabilitation tool and Icexpress clients are encouraged to participate. Apart from its obvious ‘health and wellness’ qualities, it also presents those living with limb loss with an opportunity to socialize and interact.

“Johan gave me one look and said he thinks that I would make a good field athlete. I shrugged it off but a seed was planted. He kept saying he wants to see me at Nationals so; I started practicing for javelin, discus and shot put. I must admit, I enjoy every moment of it”.

Kotie competed at her first SASAPD National Athletics Championships in 2017. She topped that by representing South Africa as a member of IsAbility Sports Club at the 2017 IWAS World Championships that took place in Vila Real de Santo Antonio, Portugal from 30 November to 6th December.

“It was like a dream come true. I have never been abroad and the thought of competing on an international level gave me butterflies”.

Competing in the Masters Women Division, Kotie achieved a 4th place in discus, a 5th in javelin, and 8th in shot put at her first international event. The experience, however, meant much more than merely chasing a podium.

“The camaraderie among the athletes was immediately noticeable. I made some very special friendships and the experience made me believe in myself again. That I, at my age, can go out there and enjoy myself! That there is life after amputation”.

IsAbility Spors Clubt, a squad that included athletes from as young as 11 years of age all the way up to masters division, went on to end first on the medals table after the three day athletics competition.

Generally, Kotie uses a 3R80 knee-foot system for walking but confesses that, at home, she prefers her sport solution. “I like doing daily household tasks wearing my Cheetah Blade and only use my walking solution when going out”.

At the time of interview, Kotie’s goals were,  setting new South African records in her field items and attending the 2018 IWAS Women’s World Games  (August 27th to September 1st , Worcester, UK).

At the time of print, she had already ticked off two of these by setting national records in the F57 Women Masters Javelin (10.86m) and Shot Put (6.10m) items at this year’s SASAPD National Championships in Bloemfontein, while adding a third gold in Discus as well.

“My advice to other amputees is, never lay down. Exercising should be a part of your daily routine in order to get the most out of your regained mobility. It is equally important to trust your prosthetist and physical therapist and to speak up if something feels wrong. Lastly, don’t be too proud to ask for and accept help when you need it”.

By sharing her story, Kotie hopes to be an inspiration for other senior women and prove that it is never too late to chase new goals, no matter what the challenges. We think she can safely tick that goal off too – inspiration indeed.

Written by: Liezel van Rensburg

Photo credit: Andries Kruger