Disabled Swimmer Makes Olympic History

Watching her glide through the water, you would never guess. But Natalie du Toit is missing half of her left leg. And in a few days, she could become the first disabled athlete to win a medal in the Beijing Olympics.

The South African is competing in the 10-kilometer open water swimming race on Aug. 20, at the able-bodied Olympics. She's currently ranked fifth in the world in that event, and never mind her able-bodied competitors, she is going for gold.

"I'm going to get into the race, and I'm going to try my hardest," she told ABC News. "I'm going to swim my heart out and give it everything."

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Just a few weeks before the start of the Games, it was her compatriot, "blade runner" Oscar Pistorius, who was tipped to become the first disabled athlete to win an Olympic medal. When he missed the qualifications by a split second, all eyes turned to Natalie.

For the 24-year-old, the Olympic dream once seemed very far away. As a competitive swimmer, she was aiming for the 2004 Athens Olympics when she lost her leg in a motorcycle accident. She was just 18 at the time. The amputation was a shock, but her morale came back.

"Lying up in the hospital," she told ABC News, "I just wanted to get up and be myself again."

Natalie returned to practice, and with hard work, found new marks in the water. She qualified for Athens 2004, in the Paralympic Games. Then in May of this year, she qualified for both the Beijing Olympics and the Beijing Paralympics.

"It was a big surprise," Du Toit told ABC News. "For me it was just a dream to get to the able-bodied Olympics."

The 24-year-old proudly carried the South African flag in the opening ceremony. Only a handful of disabled athletes, including the American blind runner Marla Runyan and tennis table star Natalia Partyka, who is missing her right forearm, have ever competed in the able-bodied Olympics.

"I'd like to be a role model for everyone," du Toit told SKY News. "Not just disabled people, but you know everyone who has problems, to get up and fight."

Unlike the "blade-runner," Natalie has no aide for her missing limb. What she lacks in kick, she compensates for with the rest of her body, a positive mind and a dose of humility.

"You know there's always difficult parts," she told ABC News, "but I think you've got to get over them, and you know if you want to be up at that level you got to try and work through them."

When the rest of her team heads back home, Natalie will stay on. She is competing in six events in the Paralympics. Six more opportunities to come out on top.

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