From Track & Field to the ERG, Anika Pretorius shares her transition at Maties Sport

It was at the age of 10 that Anika began her track career. While she initially competed in high jump and long jump, her eyesight gradually declined, so she switched to sprinting. Remarkably, the runner continued to run despite being visually impaired.

A young 19 year-old Anika received her first taste of the Paralympic Games in London 2012. Almost 10 years later she reached the final of the 100m T13 event in the #Tokyo2021 Paralympics where she took fifth place with a personal best time of 12.33 while representing South Africa.

The athlete shared that she was injured at the Paralympics, but this did not deter her determination from pushing herself to the limit. “I was still recovering from my foot injury. I basically travelled to the Paralympics with an injury, and it just didn’t get better afterwards,” says Pretorius.

It was last year, not long ago that the Paralympian decided she wanted to try a new sport. Her brothers’ friend suggested she try out rowing as a recreational sport, to blow off some steam because she is a PhD candidate at Stellenbosch University, after graduating Cum Laude with her Masters in Sports Science.

“I could never do a team sport at school because of my eyesight, I couldn’t catch the ball, so I never made the team for ball sport,” Pretorius said laughing.

Her brother’s friend told her: “Well you’re injured, so let’s go to rowing. And he went with me for only the first time and then afterwards he just disappeared, and I stuck with it. From there on I just really enjoyed it. It was a good way for me to stay active while I was injured, and then it became so nice that I joined the team.”

She was open to trying something new, and after doing some research she realized that rowing would be a great way for her to stay active and reduce stress, allowing her to focus on her studies. She found that it was a great way for her to stay in shape and have fun at the same time.

Making the transition from Athletics to Rowing did her well, not only physically but mentally, she describes the feeling as a “big motivator”. Dylan Schmidt the President of Maties Rowing informed her about the world indoor rowing tournament and later submitted her times to Rowing South Africa, soon after, they contacted her to inform her that she is on par to get her classification in the para-category.

“I feel like I had a lot of struggles at the end of last year, I’ve really been at my lowest of my life probably because of the challenges mostly in my PHD, a lot of setbacks so the rowing and the World Championships being a goal helped with something to work for and overcome,” says Pretorius.

Anika has been in the Maties Rowing team for less than a year, and she has already shattered two world records. She became a world record holder in two events, on the 25th of February 2023 she set a new world record on the Concept2 RowErg women 19-29 PR3 (VI) in the 2000 metres within 7 minutes 25.4 seconds, and more impressively, the following day Pretorius claimed the Women’s 19-29 PR3 (overall) 500 metres with a record time of 1 minutes 38.2 seconds.

“Initially I just enjoyed rowing with the Maties rowers, I just enjoyed the sport a lot, then I realised it’s easy for me to sustain the high-power outburst, it’s not easy, but I like to push my body. The team started telling me I’m doing really well, and from there I was really into the team, they all become my friends,” says Pretorius.
When asked if racing is still her favourite event, she says that it has been such a joy to be rowing as there is a team component, “Focusing on being in sync with everyone, working together to get the best for the team, so that’s been maybe overtaking racing.”

The world record holder will be participating in the 2023 USSA Rowing Sprints (31-March – 2 April) at Mis Verstand Dam representing Maties Sport and Stellenbosch University. It will be her very first time competing on the water, and she is extremely excited to be doing this with the support of the Rowing team. She has trained hard with her teammates and is confident that they will have great success.

“That’s going to be my first race on the water, I’m super excited! Because I’ve been doing well on the rowing machine, everyone is watching and I’m so nervous,” she said.

The athlete remains positive and excited for what this year brings for her studies and her rowing. She believes that being childlike in her dreams and goals has helped her to enjoy the process of her sport and studies. “Never let your dreams become a burden”, she concluded.

She believes that if you have a passion for something, it should be pursued with joy and wonder. She strives to make her goals achievable, yet challenging, and to celebrate the small successes along the way. This has helped her to remain motivated and has kept pushing herself forward.

By Jamie Wyngaardt