As any good sprinter will tell you, the first one out of the starting blocks has a good chance of being the first to cross the finish line.
But what if, like star WP sprinter Kerwin Matthys, 18, you were born deaf and therefore you might never be able to hear the crack of the starter’s pistol.
However, thanks to the wonders of modern medical technology and natural born athleticism, the youngster has established himself as one of the city’s finest speedsters.
His mother, former Manenberg resident Rene Matthys, fondly remembers the flood of support that poured in from friends and random strangers following a story published in Athlone News in 2006 like it was yesterday.
Matthys, a teacher at Downeville Primary School, sent out an appeal for help to get Kerwin a much-needed cochlear implant.
When he was about three years old, she said, they discovered that he was profoundly deaf and needed to raise funds for the operation which cost R150 000 at the time, a massive amount, even by today’s standards.
“People in the area and nearby communities all rallied to help us. They donated money, we got a lot of phone calls and people also came to our place in York Road, Sherwood Park,” she said.
The procedure, performed at the Vergelegen Clinic in Somerset West, was a success and the rest as they say, is history. Staff at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital referred him to the Carel du Toit Centre at Tygerberg Hospital where children with hearing impairment learn spoken language through the use of hearing technology and other methods.
The family moved to Mitchell’s Plain in 2008, stayed there for eight years before settling in Kuils River so he could be closer to Jan Kriel School, the school he’s been attending since leaving the Carel du Toit Centre in Grade 3
Fast forward 16 years and young Kerwin, now 18 and currently in matric, has had his rivals eat dust on the track with exceptional performances at various high schools’ athletic meetings, including the national high schools and learners with special educational needs (LSEN) track and field championships in Germiston, earlier this year. Although not getting a podium spot in his first appearance at the national championships in 2018, in Potchefstroom, he bounced back this year, coming home with two silver medals and two bronze after competing in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 4x100m relay and the medley relay.
“I would just like to thank all those who helped us with his cochlear implant, for their encouragement, especially the Athlone community that supported us. They played a big part in Kerwin being where he is today,” she said.
Extremely shy but fiercely competitive, Kerwin prefers to let his legs do the talking when it comes to athletics and remains humble about his achievements. Although able to hear, listening for the starter’s gun to go off, still requires intense concentration, he said. “The starter always asks me if I can hear clearly and I always listen carefully to make sure I hear the starter’s gun shot,” he said.
“When I’m standing at the start of the race, my mind tells me that it is okay if I don’t make it for first, second or third place. After that, my mind also tells me to run as fast as I can and get to the finish line. And, my mind tells me it is not just about winning the race, it’s about having fun and enjoying myself,” he said.