Star national paralympic athlete Jane Mandean, 48, from Athlone, who died last month following a battle with cancer, will always be remembered for her determination and resilience in the face of adversity, says her friend and mentor, Muriel Susa.
A long-serving coach at the Bridgetown-based Unity Sports Club for athletes with physical disabilities, Susa, 70, had known Jane for many years and considered her a daughter.
Susa also serves on the Western Province Sports Association for the Physically Disabled (WPSAPD) as executive sports co-ordinator for the Cape Metro area.
Mandean, she says, was born with cerebral palsy, which affected mainly her legs and she had difficulty walking. During her time at Eros School in Bridgetown, she discovered her talent for sport and became involved in archery and athletics.
“She shone in athletics field events (discus, shotput and javelin) as a standing athlete (F35 class), and was selected to compete as a member of the WPSAPD team at national championships at junior level,“ said Susa.
After finishing school she joined Unity Sports Club with Susa as a coach. Testament to her excellent performance at national level, Mandean met qualification criteria and was selected to compete at the Paralympic Games in Atlanta in 1996,“ said Susa.
“She did it again at the IPC World Athletics Championships in Birmingham, England, in 1998. Here she won gold medals in discus, shotput and javelin (1st in world rankings for all three events). Since then she has represented South Africa as a para athlete (para being the abbreviation for parallel to athletics without disabilities) multiple times including a further two Paralympics in Sidney (2000) and Athens (2004). In Athens she won a bronze medal in discus.
“She has always carried herself as a true ambassador for South Africa and sport, worked hard to prepare for competitions, and supported and encouraged fellow athletes,“ Susa said.
“In 2011, her sporting career suffered a major setback when she was involved in a car accident, which left her with increased mobility and balance problems and in 2015 she requested international classification to compete as a sitting athlete. In 2016 she started competing as a sitting athlete (F34) with renewed energy to get back to a competitive level in her throwing events. This she achieved at the 2016 SASPD Nedbank national championships in Bloemfontein.
“Since then, she qualified every year to compete at the national championships — a true veteran in sport. Having a vision for herself and integration of athletes with disabilities for many years and their access to sporting facilities and coaching.
“More than an athlete, she has also been a voice for and champion of the participation of women and children in sport, representing WPSAPD at Cape Town Sports Council meetings,” she said.
Zain Lamara, a former teacher at Belgravia High School, fondly remembers Mandean as a true role model and an inspiration to many others.
“I met Jane at the South African Games in Polokwane, in 2011,” he said.
“I was involved with mainstream athletics at the time. I knew nothing about special needs athletics.”
This was about to change, as the two struck a friendship following Mandean’s visit to Belgravia High.
“As time went by, we worked together and I learnt about special needs athletics,” said Lamara, a coach at Bellville Athletics Club, which Mandean later joined.
“In all my 30-years of coaching, I’ve never met an individual so committed, so dedicated and so passionate,“ Lamara said.
“Her unbelievable talent and potential saw her representing both her clubs, Unity and Bellville, Western Province and the Western Cape and of course, the country.“