'I run my own race': how Caster Semenya inspired a nation in 2019

Despite facing numerous challenges in 2019, Caster Semenya has come out stronger for it - and inspired many in the process.
Despite facing numerous challenges in 2019, Caster Semenya has come out stronger for it - and inspired many in the process.
Image: Caster Semenya via Facebook

Olympic gold medallist Caster Semenya endured one of the most difficult years of her career in 2019, but the champion stayed strong and undefeated.

Here is how Semenya inspired the nation this year.

Facing discrimination

Earlier this year, Semenya was faced with a challenge after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland ruled in favour of the International Association of Athletics Federations' proposed regulations regarding athletes with differences of sex development (DSD).

The new rules instructed that DSD athletes such as Semenya, who compete in events from the 400m to the mile, to take medication to lower their testosterone levels.

The 28-year-old world champion said she would not take part in the process and would instead lodge an appeal via her legal team.

Determination

Semenya remained determined after a ruling by a Swiss judge reversed a decision to temporarily suspend her ban.

Taking to social media, she told her supporters that there was always light at the end of the tunnel, adding that the race was far from over.

“You haven't seen nothing!" she told them.

Winning

Showing no signs of defeat, Semenya won the 2‚000m race in Paris in June after crossing the line in 5min 38.19sec - just 0.12sec short of Zola Budd’s 28-year national record in this rarely run event.

Semenya was running for the first time since losing her case to reverse the IAAF’s new gender eligibility rules at the CAS at the beginning of May.

“I can run any distance I want,” she said. “I don’t have time for nonsense‚ I don’t have time for messages for anyone. I said a long time ago that I’m going to focus on myself.”

Fighting for her rights

In June Semenya won another legal skirmish with the IAAF. The victory meant that Semenya was free to compete without having to take medication to lower naturally occurring high levels of testosterone.

However, she was still denied entry to the Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco.

“No other woman should be forced to go through this in order to have the same right that all women have: to do what we love and run the way we were born,”​ said Semenya.

Running until 35

Semenya made it very clear that she wasn't even close to being done with running. Speaking at the Standard Bank Top Women conference, she vowed to run until the age of 35. 

“Whoever is going to stop me from running is going to have to drag me out of the track," she said.

“There's not much that I can say about the case. What I can tell you is that I am on top of my game.”

Accepting yourself

In the same month, Nike released a video starring the champion, in which she spoke about acceptance, self-love and respecting people for who they are.

In the video, Semenya said she wanted to do what she loves: be on the track and be free.

“I'm one kind of an athlete. I run my own race. It's all about me.”

New journeys

In September, Semenya joined Janine van Wyk FC to help generate more interest in women’s football in the country.

“I appreciate the love and support I already get from the team. I am looking forward to this new journey and hopefully I can contribute as much as I can to the club,” she said, adding that her taking up soccer did not mean she would be giving up running. 

Inspiring a new generation of athletes

Semenya and sports brand Nike collaborated again in November on an ad with a powerful message of hope about pursuing one's dreams regardless of one's conditions.

Narrated by Semenya herself, the ad gives the audience an authentic look into her world, where her dream began and set the stage for her athletic journey.

“Positivity comes from where you’re coming from - how you’re raised, the love that you get from your family and their belief in you," she said.

"If people believe in you, you’ll always be positive. You’ll be a believer.”

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