llse Hayes is a renowned South African World and Double Paralympian Champ. She was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1985. At the age of 11 Hayes was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, inherited form juvenile muscular degeneration, which causes progressive loss of vision. Hayes spent 8 years of her life in Johannesburg before moving to the Eastern Cape with family. In 2004 she moved to Stellenbosch where she studied BA in Sports Science and Honours in Pediatrics at Stellenbosch University. In 2010 Hayes got married to Cassie Carstens and they both live in Stellenbosch.

Growing up Hayes always had a passion for sport. She was very active in school participating in different sporting codes namely netball, tennis and gymnastics. Her stint in these different sporting codes had to be cut short because of her impaired vision. “I used to play tennis and that was one of the ways I actually figured out that I had an impairment and that my eyes were starting to deteriorate, because I couldn’t really track the ball anymore and I couldn’t volley because I couldn’t see it,” said Hayes.

Hayes broke into the international stage of athletics in 2002 when she competed in the IPC Athletics World Champions in Lille, France. She walked away with 2 medals in the T13 category, winning gold in the 400 meters sprint and a bronze in the 100 meters. Amongst her other accolades is 2 Paralympics gold medals, 4 Silver medals , 1 bronze medal and 6 IPC World Championships gold medals, 1 silver medal and 4 bronze medals. Hayes retired from athletics last year but wants to continue to add value to upcoming athletes, “I want to be involved in the physiological things of sports, I think there’s a huge in the physiological preparation of things in sports” said Hayes.

Disability was no hurdle for Ilse Hayes to fulfill her dreams. She encourages disabled people to work hard to reach their full potential and see their dreams come true. “Have passion and never lose the fun factor out of what you are doing because that also helps to make it more memorable. The only person who will ever determine your destiny is yourself. As soon as you’re able to make your own choices stick with those dreams, to get to the top. It takes a lot of time, dedication, hard work and sacrifices, but all of these things must be building blocks towards your dream,” said Hayes.

According to Hayes a lot needs to be done to support disabled athletes in the form of sponsorship, “From a sporting point of view, I think there’s still a long way to go in terms of how corporates view disabled athletes. It is easier for our able-bodied counterparts to get corporate sponsors, so companies need to use more disabled athletes to promote their brands” added Hayes.

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