Long jumper Ruswahl Samaai’s list of accolades is almost as long as his personal best, but the University of Johannesburg student’s bronze medal at the recent IAAF World Championships in London takes pride of place.
Samaai leaped onto the scene in 2014 with third places at the Commonwealth Games and African champs, before graduating to the African title last year.
“I became African champ and finished ninth in Rio too, but, out of all my achievements, London is the best to date,” said the 25-year-old, who recorded a distance of 8.32m.
After London, Samaai made his way to Switzerland for the IAAF Diamond League meeting two weeks later, where he placed second.
It has been a long and difficult road for the Johannesburg resident, who has had to contend with niggling knee problems since an operation in 2010.
“I knew the only thing that would keep me away from a medal would be injury,” said the former triple jumper, who finally enjoyed an injury-free year after switching to long jump seven seasons ago.
“I started my athletics career as a triple jumper, but, due to a knee operation in 2010, I had to make a switch. Long jump and triple jump have the same basic principles so I decided to do long jump the following year.”
Many doubted whether the athlete – who was born and bred in Paarl in the Western Cape – would be able to bounce back from the operation, but he doggedly proved his critics wrong.
“This medal makes everything meaningful because it represents the struggle that I’ve been through. It represents all my hard work and dedication.”
From dealing with injury to finding time to walk 6km to training after 12-hour work shifts, Samaai said the challenges he had to overcome provided valuable lessons.
“I’ve learned that patience and perseverance can become a challenge in our daily lives, but you have to keep moving forward.”
He proved a little grit could go a long way when he set a personal best of 8.49m at the ASA Senior Championships in Potchefstroom in April.
His career, he said, had taken him places he never thought he would see – from busy New York in the United States to quiet Gemona in Italy. The latter, with an estimated population of 11 000, has a special place in his heart.
“It’s a small town surrounded by mountains and valleys. The place reminds me of home back in Paarl.”
Samaai, who is coached by Jenny Kingwill, said his achievements this year were only the beginning as he had plenty left in the tank.