Saw-attack triathlete Mhlengi Gwala eyes Tokyo Paralympics

Mhlengi Gwala is aiming big.
Mhlengi Gwala is aiming big.
Image: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

Champion para-triathlete Mhlengi Gwala‚ who survived a vicious handsaw attack in 2018‚ has his sights set on the Paralympics in Japan later this year.

Gwala was hauled into a bushy area near the University of KwaZulu-Natal‚ in Durban‚ where three men allegedly attempted to hack off his leg with a handsaw in March three years ago.

He suffered severe injuries and had to have his right leg amputated below the knee in August last year.

This effectively put paid to a potentially promising career as an able-bodied athlete and has resulted in Gwala having to change his racing categories.

Gwala's recent triumph in the SA Para-Triathlon Championships in Bloemfontein has ignited an ambition of competing at the Paralympics in Tokyo.

He won his category and finished second overall.

The result in tough conditions has given him confidence to train and race his way to enough points to secure qualification for the Tokyo showpiece event in August.

Gwala‚ who is part of the Elite Athlete Development Programme‚ told TimesLIVE on Thursday that funding posed a major challenge in his path to the Paralympics.

“It's very hard to get sponsors‚ but I will keep trying‚” he said.

Racing as a para-triathlete has also come with its challenges. “I did find initially that during my swimming my left shoulder would get sore‚ but I’ve managed to get used to my swimming stroke now.”

Gwala found the initial transition to using his prosthetic difficult but after a month he was used to it and felt that it hadn’t hampered his running.

While his running has remained strong‚ he is doing more bike work to hone his skills.

“If I look at my times now compared to my times last year‚ on the run they are the same — and that is after just three months of training‚ so I will get better. My swim has improved as well‚ so I am happy that I am getting better.”

If he is able to secure funding‚ Gwala hopes to race in Egypt in June and then compete in Europe.

“I need to get enough points through racing to qualify for the Paralympic Games‚ but the cost of getting to Europe to compete is big so we are trying to raise money to get overseas.

“Qualification for a triathlon doesn’t work on times‚ it works on points and in order to get those points I need to be racing‚” he said.

With five months left until the event‚ Gwala said he was mindful of the limited time frame.

“If I cannot qualify for Tokyo then I will be concentrating on the Commonwealth Games in the UK in 2022.”