A formidable wheelchair marathon racer, South Africa’s Ernst van Dyk has won the celebrated Boston Marathon a record nine times. His time of 1 hour 18.27 mins in 2004 became a long-standing world record.
Ernst was born with congenital absence of both legs. His parents, two provincial-level athletes, recognised his athletic abilities and encouraged sports participation. At first he went to school in Graaff-Reinet, then he switched to the Elizabeth Conradie school for disabled children in Kimberley where his sporting talents flourished. He represented South Africa in the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics in swimming and wheelchair events, his track appearance turning out to be pivotal in his career. The cheers of the crowd as he circled the track excited him so much that it persuaded him to concentrate in the future on wheelchair racing.
At the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Ernst won a bronze medal in the 400 metres. In Athens in 2004, he won two silver medals in the 800 metres and the 1,500 metres, and a bronze in the 5,000 metres. At the Beijing Paralympics in 2008, he won gold in the hand-cycling marathon as well as bronze in the wheelchair marathon.
Ernst has worked strenuously to increase community involvement in wheelchair racing and hand-cycling. He organised an international event in Paarl, near Cape Town in March 2005 and ensured that handcycling became an official category in the famous Argus Cycle Tour around the Cape Peninsula, and was fully integrated into all fun rides around the Western Cape area of South Africa.
Despite his wonderful career in sport, he says his biggest personal accomplishment was earning his college degree, making him the first ever disabled person to graduate for a degree in Sport Science from Stellenbosch University.
On April 20, 2010 the South African government announced that Ernst was to receive the Order of Ikhamanga in silver to mark his achievements. He was also the winner of the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability Award in 2006.