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Alani aces four Paralympic times as she eyes Rio spot
- Updated: April 30, 2016
By Mark Etheridge
Going into this month’s senior national aquatics championships Alani Ferreira was one stressed and sore teenager as she struggled with a niggling shoulder injury.
Coming out of the championships that stress had switched to smiles as she ended up the most successful para-swimmer with no fewer than four 2016 Paralympic qualifying times under her belt.
Last week at the Rio Paralympic Test event in Brazil she boosted her confidence with yet another qualifying time.
Now, as the race to Rio hots up she’s in the pound seats to be part of Team South Africa.
The Epworth High School matriculant competes in the SM13, S13 and SB13 categories for the visually disabled and has only been swimming seriously for the last six years although she’s been swimming on and off for 14 of her 17 years.
Like Paralympian track ace Ilse Hayes, Ferreira suffers from the degenerative eye disease, Stargardt’s disease, which in effect leads to tunnel vision.
‘I could see perfectly until the age of eight when I got prescription reading glasses but I never wore them because they simply did not help,’ she told Road to Rio 2016. ‘It only really started effecting me when I was 12 when my piano teacher noticed my sight reading was very bad and my tennis coach realised that I was reacting too late for the ball,’ she went on.
Many visits to the optometrist couldn’t effectively identify a specific problem. ‘I distinctly remember when we were driving home from school one day my mom asked me “what does that sign say?”
‘And I only responded just as we passed it. She said that wasn’t normal but I insisted that it wasn’t blurry, it was just that I simply couldn’t see it! After that my parents took me to Mr Owen Hilliar who diagnosed me with the disease. Since then it has just slowly been getting worse but should eventually stop at some point.’
Ferreira took a break for a year or so before getting into disabled swimming. ‘Doctors advised me to start swimming again and I eventually did warm to it and ended up loving it.’
The stressful build-up to seniors saw many visits to physiotherapist Sandy Boshoff and biokineticist Nicky Irvine and it was a tough time mentally as the fact that she couldn’t train took her form into a big dip.
‘But my coach, Wayne Riddin kept me positive throughout the rehab process. Three weeks before seniors I did Nedbank Nationals for the Physically Disabled in Bloemfontein which left me very disappointed because I didn’t swim a single A qualifying time and I was disheartened but Wayne told me to relax, things will sort themselves out.
‘In the week before seniors my shoulder was almost feeling perfect but my time trials were still not up to standard but once again I was told to calm down.
‘Throughout seniors as well as the build-up to it, Wayne has not just been my swimming coach but my mental coach, making sure that I was confident and ready to race.’
Ferreira went on to reflect on her busy time in the King’s Park pool.
‘The first day of seniors was the 200m IM which was one of the four races I was hoping to qualify in but sadly I missed the time in the heats. Before finals began Wayne and I worked on my dive and turns to try and take off as much time as possible. By the time the race came I was pumped up and ready to race my heart out with my motto in mind: “it’s now or never”. When I ended the race I couldn’t even see if I swam the time or not, so I asked my club mates to shout if I did.
‘As soon as I lifted my head out the water all I could hear was screaming and shouting. I was extremely happy when I got out the pool but the feeling still hasn’t sunk in.
‘Day two was my two main races – 100 breast and 400 free (heats only). The fact that I only had one chance with my 400 was nerve racking but all I could do was give it a shot. First was the 100 breast and Wayne told me to just take it easy, but me being as competitive as I am thought I would still give it a shot to try and qualify in the morning.
‘I did the 100 breast and qualified in the morning but next was the 400 free. I was extremely nervous but qualified to bring my tally to three A-qualifying times. Day three was the 100 back which I haven’t swam for a while because of my shoulder injury so I didn’t have very big hopes but was happy with a B qualifying time.’
Day four was Ferreira’s final day of qualifying and the 100m fly. She failed to swim a qualifying time in the heats but again coach Riddin reminded his charge to relax and stay positive as it was only heats.’
‘For finals that night I was ready to swim till I die.When I touched the wall I didn’t know if I had got my fourth time or not so I looked at my parents and they gave me a thumbs-up and I was so relieved. If someone told me when I first started disabled swimming that I would swim four A qualifying times for the 2016 Rio Paralympics I would have looked at them and laughed.’
What next for the brunette? ‘Now I’m more ready than ever to work hard and get ready for what hopefully will be my first Paralympics. The next few months are going to see many training sessions and many late nights but it will be worth it.
‘Wayne is hoping to bring my times down to try get to top five at least so I am excited to see how fast I can go when September comes… if I make the team.
‘To go and swim against the best in the world is a dream of my mine and the race to the finish will be the best one yet.
‘Without coach Wayne I wouldn’t have been able to swim to the achievements I have. My special quotes have kept me going when times were tough especially my favourite one from my mom “always dream big, it gives life purpose”.
The teenager tearaway also gave credit to her family [dad Danie and mom Marina and older brother Daniel] who have been solidly behind her in the blocks of her sporting journey this far.
‘They have stuck by my side through the good and bad races and supported me and my dreams the whole way even if they are crazy sometimes. Daniel, was also one of my inspirations in swimming back when he use to swim.’
There’s definitely sporting and academic genes in the family. ‘My mom was a very good long jump and triple jump athlete and competed at a very high level (top five in SA when she competed in Gauteng back in the day) and my dad has always been the academic one.’
When she’s out of the pool and out of school next year she’s still busy weighing up her study options. ‘So far I’m in provisionally for B Com management at Stellenbosch and B Com communication management at Tuks in Pretoria.’
But first focus for her now is on getting that green light for the Rio Paralympics!
Ferreira’s four qualifying times are as follows:
SM13 – 200m individual medley – 2min 50.43sec
S13 – 400m freestyle – 5min 21.00sec
SB13 – 100m breaststroke – 1:26.90
S13 – 100m butterfly – 1:23.37