‘Giving up is a term that I don’t understand. I live to see what my limits are and then when I find the limit, I try to push the boundaries even further.’
With such an attitude, it’s not surprising that rising South African wheelchair tennis star, Mariska Venter (HPC), managed to win the Lithuania Open Tournament at the weekend. She beat Sweden’s Rebecka Bellander 6-1 6-3 in the final.
It’s a major breakthrough for her, as it is only her second major success in senior international tennis. In 2015 she won the Mauritian Open. In 2012 she was the top-ranked Under-18 player in the world.
Venter’s life changed dramatically in 2004 when she and her family were on their way back home, after a trip down to the Western Cape.
‘It was nine at night just outside Bloemfontein when a car passed a truck. The driver did not see us coming. It led to a head-on collision. My father passed away, as well as my oldest brother. I broke my back among other things and was left paralysed from the waist down,’ said Venter, who was only eight years old when the accident happened.
‘Although it was a really traumatic experience, I was never going to quit on life. I believe no matter what happens to you in life, you can always choose to stand up and become the great person you are meant to be. Nothing is impossible, if you really, really want it, you can get it.
‘It certainly helped that I have amazing support through family and friends, who have always encouraged me and kept me motivated. But the most important reason, and the only reason I stand up every day and take on every challenge that comes my way, is because of God.’
Venter took up wheelchair tennis in 2014 after she was introduced to a coach in Nelspruit. According to her, she immediately took a liking to chasing balls on a court and trying to outfox her opponents. She has been playing professionally for the last three years.
She describes tennis as a very complex sport. ‘Put a wheelchair with that and you have a great challenge. Not only do you have to hit the ball by using your arms, but you also have to “run” around the court using those same arms, so it gets very complicated. To keep moving on the court is the hardest part of the game for me. It is something I constantly have to work on.
‘My most challenging opponent is the one on the other side of the net. In tennis, there is always a person who plays the ball back to you, you can never expect what you are going to get.
‘Different surfaces always play a role in tennis, besides the ball that bounces completely different and travelling faster or slower, the chair can also move slower on the clay and grass courts, which makes you work even harder.
My favourite courts are the hard courts, as those are the courts we practice on every day. I also love a fast-paced game.’
She credits her coach, Gerald Stoffberg, and her HPC support team as the reason why she is more confident when playing tournaments. ‘It is fantastic to have people believe in you and going out of their way to help me live my dream.’
Part of her preparation includes training with the Tuks Wheelchair rugby team two nights a week. It helps her to improve her fitness and agility.
Venter, who has now competed in tournaments in 15 countries, describes Italy as one of her favourite destinations. ‘I love pasta and wine and Italy looks like a fairytale. I love the Italian culture,’ said Venter, who works as a beauty therapist when not playing tennis.
‘I love to treat people, make people feel good and make them feel more beautiful.’
Source credit: SASCOC
Picture of Venter courtesy of Reg Caldecott