“It is seven thirty on this Tuesday morning; “Wake up Johannesburg! It is another bright day and it is seventeen degrees Celsius. There is a collision on the M1 traveling to the city …” The newscaster reads the headlines ‘Sunette Viljoen has Silver’ and happily boasts about team South Africa’s wonderful performance at this year’s Olympics. “Their achievements are our achievements as a country and it unites us!”
After being stuck in traffic in the busy Jo’burg morning, I arrive at The Willows estate. A leafy, inviting oasis in a buzzing Randburg. It’s a sunny morning at the beginning of spring and I find the Olympic medalist, Sunette Viljoen and her life partner Limari Louw in their pajamas in the garden, digging, planting and watering the plants. “Welcome to our home!” says Sunette and takes me by the arm. “Come in, Limari was just preparing a new pot of coffee”.
Sorry we are so dirty and still in pajamas, we have not had the time to work in the garden and we really need to get these flowers into the ground before the summer rains” says Sunette excited and hands me a cup of coffee. “We actually had the flower garden ready” Limari interrupts “all my flowers are coming up, but Sunette was digging half a grave and her flowers all drowned” Limari says, laughing. “We have to get it done before one o’clock today, because I have to go for lunch with the minister of sport” Sunette remarked as I stepped into their home.
The Viljoen-Louw home is a treasure cave of medals and trophies. Family photos boast the entrance area and lounge, and photos of Sunette and her 11-year-old son Henrè are spread across the kitchen, on the fridge, cupboard and in the passage leading to the bedrooms. My first impression of the house is of love and affection, but most of all, that of challenge and victory.
Photos and trophies of Sunette in various foreign countries, tell the story of her courage and perseverance. From Hong Kong, to Rome, to Madrid and Brussels, Washington, Abu Dhabi and London.
It was in London, during 2012 where Sunette experienced one of the greatest disappointments of her career, when she only reached fourth position at the Olympics. “That was a difficult year, in fact, that year was the first of four hard and challenging years that all formed part of the built up toward Rio and the 2016 victory. Limari and I have had hardship, but now, it paid off and we are delighted.” Although Sunette’s parents and family have supported her since she first picked up the javelin at the age of 16, the family has disowned her when she fell in love with Limari. She tells me that it had been hard for her to accept her family’s disregard for her relationship, but that she now shares Limari’s family and that her ‘other mother’ had traveled with her and Limari to Rio to support her.
Competing in a sporting world, dominated mainly by men and being in an unconventional relationship, Viljoen assures me that she faces no prejudice from the public. On the contrary they are very loving and supportive of her, Limari and Henrè. “We do live in a much more open-minded society today” Sunette says while showing me trophies she received while playing cricket for South Africa. “I have always lived in a man’s world, competed in a man’s world and all my friends were boys!” she tells me laughing innocently. “Maybe they judged me, I don’t know, maybe I just don’t want to see it.” In her teenage years, Sunette was the only female in the under sixteen cricket team, playing at national level, representing South Africa in various tournaments, until she discovered her love for the javelin.
Now it is that initial and kindred love for cricket that she teaches her little boy. “You must see the two of them when Henrè comes home for the weekend” Limari tells me while preparing breakfast for Sunette, “they can play for hours on end, he is just as energetic as his busy-bee mother.”
The phone rings and a Skype call is coming in. “Sorry, I have to take this, it is the BBC wanting to talk to me!” Sunette tells me and rush to the computer. Still in her pajamas, she greets the journalist in a happy and enthusiastic voice. Sunette, the girl next door, had beaten the odds and reached her dreams, inspiring a nation. Walking to my car I ask Limari whether the next four years of training for the 2020 Olympics has started. She looks to the sky and smiles; “I don’t know if I have the strength to participate again” she says laughing, “but there is and will never be any end to my world champion’s passion for the game.”
written by Anina Peens Producer and Journalist