By Joanna Delalande
“I pressured myself to not disappoint anybody,” says para-athlete
Talented South African runner Fanie Van Der Werne has never been short of ambition, and his determination has taken him all the way to gold medals in the Paralympic and Commonwealth Games.
"I always loved sport," Fanie shares. "My teacher told me to try out for the Paralympic sport team so I gave it a shot and since then I had a dream of making the Paralympic games."
Fanie first competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the T37 100 and 200 meters and was awarded a gold medal for both events. In 2010 he won two silver medals in the World Championships, was the African Champion in 2007 and 2011, and is the current world record holder and African record holder for the 100 and 200 meters.
Despite his achievements, nerves and doubts never failed to creep into the runner's mind.
"I had a big fear of failure because I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself not to disappoint anybody," Fanie explains.
He also speaks of spiritual challenges he faced as to what it meant to be a real Christian.
Fanie grew up in a Christian home, but as a child he was taught he had to achieve and strive for God's love and acceptance. "I didn't really get the sense that it's about a relationship with the Lord," he recalls.
This was a very challenging thing for him to grasp and he "never felt really good enough because I was striving for something that only God could do in my life."
For Fanie the real change in the way he saw God happened after high school when he returned from a gap year in London. "I realised I needed to come back to the Lord," he says.
From there he joined a church where he could be mentored and taught how to have a relationship with God. Through that year, Fanie says his entire way of thinking about God and Christianity changed.
He learned God was not expecting anything from him but had already accepted him and wanted a relationship with him.
"That was the best year of my life," the athlete recalls, "because I got to know Jesus and be in a relationship with Him, growing closer to the Lord."
With that realisation, the pressure the young runner was feeling disappeared instantly. "When I go out on the sporting field I don't need to perform for acceptance from God. He has accepted me before I do anything."
Now Fanie runs for an "audience of One", Jesus Christ his Lord and Saviour, He says he is no longer focused on the outcome but on the opportunity he has to run and do it all with God by his side.
It is with this new mindset that Fanie approached the T37 100 meter race at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth, where he was awarded another gold medal.
In an attempt to inspire and guide young kids to reach their goals, Fanie and his brother Chris run a coaching program in two schools and an athletics club. "That's basically the world of sports," he explains. "Reaching every country, every city through sport and through the Gospel (the good news about Jesus Christ)."
"That is really something I am very excited about," he says.
Now, whenever doubts and nerves threaten the athlete he turns to the Bible and finds inspiration in 1 John chapter 4 verse 16.
"It says that we will know and rely on the love that God has for us," Fannie recites. "Knowing that, you can go out and give your best because you are accepted, because you are loved by God."
Fanie and his brother Chris run a charity Inspired2Become, carrying out youth development through sport. They aim to inspire young people to reach their full potential through positive role modelling, relationship building, coaching, mentoring life skills and creating opportunities. •