Defeating the odds is a daily achievement for Samantha Stander, a second-year medical student at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University (US). This 24-year-old was born with severe congenital developmental dysplasia in both her hips – a condition that causes misalignment of the hip joint. Samantha’s condition is so severe that doctors told her mother that she would never be able to walk.
Today this determined young woman not only walks, she regularly takes part in running and cycling races. Last year, she even completed two obstacle races, appropriately dubbed “The Grind”, where she not only had to run 5km, but she also had to climb over walls, crawl through mud and swim through quarries (to name only a few of the 20-odd obstacles) to cross the finish line.
“The Grind [obstacle races] was definitely the toughest race I have ever done,” recalls Samantha, who hails from the Eastern Cape town of Cradock. “The obstacle course challenges every part of your body – your legs, your arms and even your mind.” Due to her hip dysplasia, Samantha has limited function in her legs and movement is difficult and sometimes painful. Currently she can only run short distances and switches between running and walking when doing running races.
She was not allowed to partake in any sports while she was growing up and her body was still developing, and she only became active in 2015 for the first time in her life. “I believe that the only real disability is a bad attitude,” says Samantha in her bright and bubbly manner. “I constantly convince myself that I have to finish the race, I have no excuse for not getting myself to the finish line, even if I have to drag myself to the end,” Samantha confesses.
She has already completed several shorter cycling races. “I’m really enjoying the cycling. It puts less strain on my hips than running, but it has other challenges,” says Samantha while showing off a grazed elbow and bruised knee from a recent mountain biking accident.
Once a week she also does ballroom dancing with the Maties Ballroom and Latin American Dance Society on the Tygerberg campus. “Partaking in sport and succeeding in it has given me a real confidence boost. But I could not have done it without the support of all the people who believe in me – it makes it easier to believe in yourself.”
She says she has also considered adding swimming to her repertoire of running and cycling, and in true Samantha spirit, has started toying with the idea of triathlon.
- By Wilma Stassen -