Meet SA’s Paralympian Star: Ilse Hayes


Karomaza |

by Michelle October; photograph by Casey Crafford.

Four-time gold medallist Ilse Hayes is a powerhouse sprinter, despite only being able to see colours and blurs. Read on for her tips in winning at life… Even when the chips are stacked against you.

Ilse Hayes has always been naturally sporty: “I started playing sport at the age of six”, she says. “I loved it; it was a big passion of mine”. She didn’t realise there was a problem with her sight until, at 11, she was diagnosed with -a visual impairment that means she can’t make out basic details.

Until then, she’d been doing gymnastics and playing tennis and netball. But she had to stop when gymnastics became more difficult, and she couldn’t see the tennis ball anymore. She took to athletics instead, which allowed her to run freely.

Be undeterred

“I don’t think I was ever frustrated or had trouble accepting it”, says Ilse of her diagnosis. As a child, she joined a league for disabled athletes, but she went to a mainstream school, so she ran with her peers there too. “I mean, if there must be something that was frustrating, it was that able-bodied athletes were better able to adjust their run-up than I was, because I was struggling to see things,” she says.

Make lemonade

In a way, grateful for her visual impairment and what it’s brought her. “I’ve travelled the world, I’ve met amazing people”, she says. “More good things than negative things came out of this.” It’s true: since competing as a disabled athlete she’s been at the Paralympics four times, and broke the T13 100m world record at the 2015 Grand Prix in Sᾶo Paulo.

Take risks

Something you probably didn’t know about Ilse: she’s an avid adventurer. But it doesn’t come without its own set of perils. Take last year-her brother got married in Costa Rica and the family went zip-lining, tubing and river rafting. She was hesitant. “I’m scared I’m not going to see something”, she admits.

But she did it anyway. “I need extra push when it comes to adventure, but I’m always keen, I love hiking and being outdoors.”

Eat well

Ilse loves food. Her faves include: butter chicken with naan, braaied lamb chops, extra-thin-base pizza. But it’s no free-for-all: “I am quite strict with what I eat”, she says. “Food is a big part of my lifestyle and training”. Case in point: every morsel of that pizza is measured.

There are set quotas for carbs at breakfast and lunch and dinners are protein-rich. “What you put into your body is what you’re going to get out of it,” she says.

Have purpose

“I think the most important thing is to be passionate about what you do”, says Ilse. “Get to the core of why you do things and be honest with yourself”. Once you know why you’re doing something, anything that doesn’t fit into that formula is noise. “My purpose is to be the best version of myself. When I stand up on the podium, all the sacrifices I’ve made will go through my mind-and I want them to be worth it”.

Fuel Up Like a Sprinter

Try Ilse’s fave nutrient packed salad after your workout to nourish tired muscles:  Bulk up with iron- baby spinach and add antioxidant-rich Vitamin C such as tomatoes and peppadews. Muscle up with lean protein in the form of smoked chicken and feta, add some avocado and sunflower seeds for some heart-healthy fats.

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