This story is about the amazing exploits of Isle Hayes, an athlete who inspired many to race in Paralympic events in South Africa. This is the kind of story that coaches should pass around to their teams.
Isle Hayes is a role model. A special thanks to Stuart Weir for this story.
When Ilse Hayes (24.94) finished second in the T13 (Visual impairment) 200m race behind Leilia Adzhametova of Ukraine (24.63), it brought down the curtain on an illustrious career. The 100m had produced the same result, Adzhametova winning 12.00 to 12.17.
Isle Hayes ended her career with 7 Paralympic and 13 World Championship medals, including a total of 8 gold medals overall. She won her first world championship medal aged 16 and her final medal 15 years later.
Her medal count could easily have been higher. She won the long jump in the 2008 and 2012 Paralympics and in the 2011 and 2013 World Championships only for the event to be removed from the schedule from then on, leaving her to concentrate on 100m, 200m and 400m.
Asked to pick one career highlight, she chose winning the long-jump at the Beijing Paralympics, her first Paralympic gold medal with 5.68m in the long jump, partly “because of that I had the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela”. In 2013 President Jacob Zuma awarded her the Order of Ikhamanga for her “courageous and relentless pursuit of excellence and incredible physical endurance”.
She was gracious in defeat in London – a repeat of the Rio results – saying: “It is the end of my career and it is important to be in the present. It is a big honour to end my career in such an amazing place. I feel a bit emotional. An amazing career has come to an end”.
She decided after the Rio Paralympics that 2017 would be her last season. Speaking in London about the future, she said: “I think I am ready. I have prepared myself mentally for more than a year. I am in a good place and there are new and exciting things happening outside of athletics and I know what I am going to do with my time. But I am certainly going to miss it. How could you not miss running in a place like this? I hope I can stay involved in the sport in a mentoring capacity”.
Keita Nantenin, FRA, Isle Hayes, RSA, and Kym Crosby, USA, on the medal stand, Doha 2015 IPC World Champs, 100m T13, photo by IPC
Isle Hayes helped put South African Para-athletics on the map. My own best memory of her was being in the mixed zone in Rio 2016 when in the space of half an hour three members of the Stellenbosch training group won medals – Ilse, Fanie van der Merwe and Charl du Toit. The abiding memory was how each of the trio seemed genuinely more pleased with the others’ success than their own.
A great athletic career ended this week.