Ernst van Dyk
Summary ProfileIf you add the number of miles wheelchair athlete Ernst van Dyk races in a season, it's second only to the distance he has to fly to get to the respective starting lines. With South Africa as his home base, Ernst has completed marathons and 10K races in New York, Japan, France, Boston, Atlanta, LA and Sydney. In 2001, he clocked 24 wins on the same international circuit.
Ernst was born with congenital birth defects. "This child will suffer from a lack of quality of life due to his disability," the doctor told his parents, "You should put him up for adoption." But Ernst's parents took him home, where they later recognized Ernst's affinity for sports and encouraged him to participate in gymnastics, table tennis, track and field and swimming.
Ernst preferred swimming to all other sports, however, and, by 17, had won national colors for his aquatic success. In the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, he finished fifth place in the pool, while also making it to the semifinals in wheelchair events. This track appearance turned out to be pivotal in Ernst's career: The cheer of the crowd as he circled the track propelled him to quit swimming and concentrate solely on wheelchair racing.
A year later, Ernst's fifth place finish in an Australian 10K caught the attention of a German company who offered to sponsor him. Three years later, however, company budget cuts resulted in the loss of his funding. Disappointed, Ernst took a nine-month hiatus from competing, until he realized too much of his life was missing without sports. He went back to training and competing, and in 1998 secured a sponsorship with Invacare, a relationship which led to him winning an outstanding 24 out of 27 races in 2001.
Regardless of his 12 years as an elite competitor, Ernst says his biggest personal accomplishment was earning his college degree, making him the first ever disabled person to graduate for a degree in Sport Science from Stellenbosch University.
Now with six consecutive victories in the Boston Marathon and many other international wins, Ernst is the undisputed world wheelchair marathon champion.
Above all, Ernst tries to maintain balance in his life, dedicating equal time to studying and working as he does to training -including playtime with his two Siberian Huskies. When Ernst considers the difficult day of his birth, he sees it as a second chance at life instead of the upset of what his life could have been. The doctor said Ernst would lack quality of life. Ernst instead uses these words to fuel himself to victory - no matter what continent he finds himself in.