Ilse Hayes is a Paralympic track and field athlete who competes mainly in the T13 and F13 class for visually impaired athletes.
When Ilse was 11 years-old, she was diagnosed with a condition called Stargardt’s Disease. This condition affects the central vision. Because of her condition, Ilse struggles to see basic detail. She describes the condition as only being able to see things clearly about 2-6 meters in front of her where as a person with “normal” vision can see roughly 60 meters away.
At 15 she began competing in disabled sports competitions and her first senior international competition came in 2002 at the World Championships in France. It was there where she realized she could achieve great things as she went on to win a gold in the 400m and a bronze in the 100m.
Ilse’s first Paralympic Games came in 2004 in Athens where she won a bronze medal in the 400m. She credits the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing as the highlight of her career when she won the silver medal in the 100m and the gold medal in the long jump. She topped all of these experiences off by defending her long jump title at the London Paralympics while securing a silver medal again in the 100m.
When addressing her disability, Ilse says she’s “learned to deal with it.” She also stated that she figured God wouldn’t give it to someone who couldn’t handle it.
Off the track, Ilse completed her Sports Science degree in 2007 and then her honors in Pediatric Sciences. She works with children on a community project at the University of Stellenbosch where she focuses on motor development within sports. Ilse finds it rewarding to watch the children grow not only with their movement, but with life skills as well.
Q & A
When did you first start training in life? Where and why?
Age 8, 60m and the smashed school record. Been loving it ever since.
When did you turn pro?
My first international event for South Africa was in 2002 at the World Championships in France.
What is your favorite event/discipline?
Long Jump and 100m (Athletics)
What are the events, wins, memories that stand out most throughout your career so far?
Your first international gold medal is always special (2002 World Champs France) as you hear your national anthem, but the Paralympic gold medal will always stand out. Meeting Mr. Mandela after the 2008 Beijing Games was a huge honor and a humbling experience.
If there’s one thing that people in the industry would recognize you by, what would that be?
Combing dedication with enjoyment.
Who was your inspiration growing up:
Within your sport: I don’t really have role model, but I grew immensely as an athlete under my current coach Suzanne Ferreira who has been with me for 8 years. Recently Shelley-Ann Fraser Price also inspired me as she always looks like she is enjoying what she does and she has a huge heart for her community.
Outside your sport: Faith in God has always pulled me through everything.
What has driven you to work super hard and rise up beyond mediocrity?
I received a talent and had a choice what to do with it. For me the obvious choice was to maximize it by setting short and long term goals.
Are you a rebel? Why or why not?
Between myself and my brother I got the hidings as a kid! So not rebellious by nature, but certainly have strong opinions!
If you weren’t killing it on a track, what would you be doing for a living?
Would love to organize events from parties to sports to corporates!
What is your favorite track?
The Birds Nest in Beijing was definitely something unique.
What is the venue that you purely dread and why?
Port Elizabeth…there is always wind!
What is a hidden talent you have other than your sport?
My artistic eye and relating to people.
Finish this sentence: “Oakleys are ________”
a trendsetting bliss!
What is the best song to practice to?
Anything with a beat, currently Oppa Gangnam Style gets me going!
People would be super surprised if they knew that you…
Grew up in a small town called Boknes! And the fact that I am 27 and married, not 17 and single as this gets asked alot!
What particular skills are you working on?
Enjoy giving speeches and sharing my London experience and life story.
You’ve been mistaken for…
A cyclist by a politician that said how she watched me repeatedly at the London 2012 Games, funny!
Anything impulsive…lets say swimming with dolphins, go restaurant hopping, sunset and vino on new beach and skinny dipping in the moonlight, hehe.
Leonardo DiCaprio back in the day.
Food: Braaivleis, pizza and sushi
Vacation Spot: Thailand
Sport (Besides your own): Tennis
Music Genre:Gospel (for eg Chris Tomlin) and Alternative music (for eg Florence and the Machine)
Movie:Braveheart and The Ultimate Gift
Animal: Koala bear
One Word Association:
Fun: Cassie (husband)
Foe:Bring it on
Any last words??
Through the whole Paralympic movement I hope to inspire others, whether abled or disabled, to overcome their obstacles whether spiritual, physical or emotional in the same way I overcame my visual impairment.