In 2017, Ilse Hayes – Paralympic champion and Stellenbosch University (SU) alumna – concluded her sport career of 17 years to start a new chapter in her life.
She was 11 when she was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease – a condition that affects the central vision and the ability to distinguish detail – in 1996. The warning bells sounded when Ilse, an outstanding sportswoman and especially tennis player, started missing volley shots at the net because she could no longer follow the tennis ball.
She started taking part in sports for people with disabilities and the rest, as they say, is history.
She competed in her first international athletics meet in 2001 and went from strength to strength. Among other achievements, she won seven medals in the class T13 at four different Paralympic Games: Bronze in the 400m in Athens (2004), gold in the long jump and silver in the 100m in Beijing (2008) as well as London (2012) and silver in the 100m and 400m in Rio de Janeiro (2016).
During this time, she also graduated with BA and honours degrees in sport science from SU.
Ilse has received recognition in various ways: The Order of Ikhamanga: Silver was bestowed on her in 2013 and she was also included in the Mail & Guardian’s list of “200 young South Africans” – a list that recognises influential South Africans younger than 35 years.
She has always viewed it as her responsibility to make the most of her talent and use the opportunities she received to the fullest and she learnt many lessons that she can apply to her life today.
“I learned that God’s timing is perfect. Often with injuries you would ask why? But it built character and I came out stronger on the other side. The Lord gives blessings at the right time.
“With my visual disability I also had to learn to plan very well. Another lesson was to do everything flat out. I never wanted to look back and have regrets. I did everything I could do, achieved everything I wanted to achieve and gave everything I had, and we as a family still live like that.
“I’m very grateful that I had so many opportunities to meet so many people, see so many countries, experience so many cultures, make so many memories and make the most of my God-given talent.”
She and husband Cassie Carstens welcomed their first child, Rapha, in February and Ilse currently offers baby massaging classes.
- By Pia Nänny -