Lerato Mahole28 September 2022
‘Believe in the power of your dreams. Don't let anyone tell you that anything is impossible.’ – Lerato Mahole
From the Curro Klerksdorp sports field to the Tokyo Olympics as part of the SA Women’s Hockey Team, Lerato Mahole has certainly achieved greatness since her time as head girl of the Class of 2017.
Lerato’s love for sport started at a young age – her first sports memory is going to mini-hockey tournaments in Potch (with the only AstroTurf at the time) with her classmates in Grades 2 or 3 – and it was while still at school that she decided that she wanted to be a professional athlete. ‘After the 2014 Women’s World Cup in The Netherlands, I saw that it was possible to play in a big tournament for SA, and maybe even play in the big leagues in Europe. That’s when I started to think and train like I was going to play for SA one day.’
With sport being such an integral part of her life, we can only imagine the exhilarating feeling when she first received the news that she would be representing her country at the Tokyo Olympics. ‘I was absolutely buzzing! I could hardly sit down and concentrate (I still had class that day). It was an incredible feeling to think that, just six months prior to being named in the team, I was side-lined for about eight weeks due to an ankle injury.’
Getting to this point in her life is not something Lerato achieved on her own. Her time at school certainly laid the groundwork. ‘Our school was small enough that we had a tight-knit community. I could always reach out to learners who were willing to lend a helping hand. Furthermore, the academic standard ensured that I was equipped with the necessary skills to be able to fully immerse myself in whatever I was embarking on – be it academically or on the AstroTurf,’ she says.
Arriving in Tokyo was almost like arriving in a new world for Lerato and her team – with everything being so technologically advanced. They had been preparing for the heat and humidity, but when they finally entered the Athletes’ Village at 03:00 in the morning, after hours and hours of COVID-19 testing and entry procedures, they were still quite shocked at how hot it was. If it was that hot and humid so early in the morning, imagine the temperature at 12:00 in afternoon! But they had finally arrived and it was time for training to begin.
‘The atmosphere in the Athletes’ Village is any athlete's dream – the best facilities, medical care, food halls, recovery and rehabilitation centres, and literally getting any and everything for free. Some athletes even made up for dentists’ appointments they had missed back home,’ Lerato explains. ‘There was also mingling with some of the world’s most famous athletes – such as Novak Djokovic, Allyson Felix, Teun de Nooijer and Chad le Clos (who was our resident kettle provider). And then there was one of my personal claim-to-fame moments – while standing behind me in the queue for lentil curry soup, tennis champion Danill Medvedev trusted my tastebuds so much that, upon my approval of the soup, he decided to get some for himself too!’ How amazing? The actual experience was definitely even better than what we could see on TV.
Of course, all was not smooth sailing and Lerato claims she definitely felt overwhelmed at times. ‘Our very first game wasn't just our first game at the Olympics, but my very first cap. I was very nervous the whole day, so much so that I felt nauseous. After I got substituted on, I mishandled the ball with my very first touch – the nerves got to me.’ But Lerato pushed through. ‘I got a chance to win the ball in a one-versus-one situation, which I did. This gave me confidence which I was able to ride on for the rest of the game, and the tournament.’
Now Lerato is back on home soil and improving her hockey skills even further. She is also focusing on her academics. Seems there is nothing this young star can’t accomplish. She is a true inspiration and reminds us, ‘there is no traffic on the extra mile – be bold and be brave.’