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Reliving SA’S most iconic sporting moments of 2021

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 By Alicia Olivier

Under Armour hosted its Mental Strength Symposium where athletes shared their unique challenges and triumphs at a star-studded event in Cape Town.

Last year was a year like no other for the world of sport. With the bludgeoning hangover from 2020 thanks to the global pandemic, 2021 was marred with controversy and uncertainty, both on and off the sports field. However it wasn’t all doom-and-gloom.

Designed to reflect and celebrate some of the most astonishing moments in sport, Under Armour the Mental Strength Symposium: Through 2021, paid homage to their world-class athletes.

Hosted by SA’s leading sport commentator Matt Pearce, guests were treated to an exclusive panel discussion with Olympian Gold Medallists Tatjana Schoenmaker and world record breaking Paralympian Ntando Mahlangu as well as the brilliant Siviwe Soyizwapi and Kevin Lerena.

Tatjana Schoenmaker

Whilst the room was  filled to the brim with pro-athletes from all sporting codes, it was swimmer and UA athlete Tatjana Schoenmaker who kept the cameras flashing.

Carving her name in the world record books after bagging two of the country’s three Olympic medals at the Tokyo Games. Schoenmaker became the first South African female in 25 years, since Penny Heyns, to win Olympic gold in swimming and also became the first South African in 22 years to break a world record.

Schoenmaker recalls the monumental week in 2021 which brought an entire nation to  tears,“ The spirit in the South African camp at the Olympics was so inspiring, we are a nation of believers and to see the elation within the camp and back home is something that I will always treasure.

After missing out on the Rio Olympics by such a small margin, one-hundredth of a second (0.01 seconds),  I was determined to bounce back. I kept on telling myself, that if I have a lane, I  have a chance”

Mental Strength was certainly epitomized through 20-year-old double amputee Ntando Mahlangu, who shared his inspiring experience at the 2020 Paralympics, which saw him complete a memorable grand double bagging two gold medals.

Ntando Mahlangu and Kevin Lerena

In 2010 Mahlangu had both legs amputated resulting in being wheelchair bound for a period of 10 years. While many would have lost hope, Mahlangu flexed his mental grit and made a decision to not only move again but excel in areas most able-bodied men couldn’t.

Having never attempted long jump, Ntando once again showcased the tangible strength of mental resilience, defying the barriers of possibility and winning gold while breaking the World Record in the men’s long jump T63 with only 6 weeks to train. Commenting on his mental state in Tokyo, “

It was  tough coming off the back of the global pandemic, but my goal was clear for the games. I had to finish what I started, I hard to push through and motivate myself.

It’s all about believing in yourself and even though I’m competing in an individual sport, team SA was like a second family and played such a crucial role in my success. I do athletics because it’s a sport I fell in love with at a young age and when I’m on the track I’m free, collectively all of these elements kept me motivated to stay on course to achieve what I have in the past year”, says Ntando.

Sticking to the UA mantra, ‘Only Way is Through’ which speaks to the mental toughness required by athletes, brands and business to be best in class, the evening’s guest speaker Brandon Beack had everyone in awe, embodying the essence of mental strength like no other.

Brandon Beack

His journey is another inspiring one, finding himself at the age of 14 lying paralyzed in a hospital bed with his dreams of being an Olympic gymnast smashed, Beack knows better than most about the importance of Mental Strength in a journey to success.

“Life throws things at you all the time and you have to work around it. You need to be agile, you need to learn to adapt and you need a bit of friction to grow, to push yourself to be the best version of yourself, ”,says Beack

It has been a monumental year for sport, foreshadowing a massive shift where athletes were forced to make some hard decisions for the betterment of their mental health and in some cases at the expense of the pinnacle of their sporting careers

The conversation around the mental well-being and the pressures that pro-athletes face is an evolving one, one that has forced a shift in narrative and paved the way to allow open discourse amongst fans, brands and the public at large.

According to incoming Under Armour GM Darren Cooke, “Mental strength is an essential part of the Under Armour brand narrative. It is a space that the organisation fiercely seeks to honour and protect for our athletes, understanding its importance for those competing at this level.

The success achieved with the UA athletes was set in motion years back, the investment in the athlete’s mental well-being and recovery, through medal wins and through loss is a crucial component of the Under Armour strategy. 2021 was a year  when the world was looking to sport to instil a sense of hope and change, and these athletes did just that. So tonight was a celebration of them, and their journey alongside Under Armour.

The Gift of the Game 2022
There couldn’t be a better time than now to release our 2022 brand vision than off the back of this momentous sporting commemoration,” continues Cooke. “2022 sees the brand focusing on the Gift of the Game, what sport does to people, their community, their hope and their outlook.”

At Under Armour, we know sport is so much more than a game. It inspires collaboration and teamwork, increases confidence, reduces stress and improves mental health. But around the world today, millions of young people are facing barriers that are negatively impacting their journey to compete – from a lack of funding, time or transportation to social and mental hurdles that make children feel they don’t belong on a team.

Under Armour believes everyone deserves the right to engage in sport. That’s why we are making a new, long-term commitment of our resources, focus and energy to help break down barriers that limit access to sport across the globe”.

See more here: The Only Way Is Through | Gift of the Game – YouTube

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