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The Durban plant’s Tyrone Pillay struck the big time in the shotput event at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and made the whole country proud. JAMES SIDDALL found his real love lies in uplifting and assisting others…

 

It was Bruce Lee – the most iconic, influential martial artist of all time – who spake this: “If you put a limit on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”

Sage, inspirational advice indeed, and advice that most of us would no doubt like to employ in our own lives – only it’s often really difficult to do so. Tyrone Pillay, I.T Technical Manager at Toyota’s Prospecton manufacturing plant in Durban, is an embodiment of this quote, and the ability to live without limits.

“What inspires me is the fact that I can make a difference in people’s lives by proving that anything can be overcome if you have the will to succeed. It is not about winning. The fact that you performed at your best is what counts.”

When he walks in for our meeting room at the plant’s communication’s centre, a screen is showing highlights of his recent achievements, notably those at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he clinched a bronze medal for South Africa in the shotput event. Indeed, Tyrone’s medal-clinching throw in the F42 category was not just a personal best at 13.91 metres, it set a new South African – and African – best. And by quite some margin, his previous best being 13.49 metres.

Tyrone’s a humble kind of guy – something that many, even most, great achievers seem to have in common. We’re talking true humility here, which is markedly different from the humble-bragging variety.

“The guys didn’t realise I could throw this far and I came out guns blazing. Man, I respect all those guys, they’ve helped me push through this far,” he told members of SASOC (the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee) soon after his big throw.

“Aled is just an awesome guy, an awesome competitor,” Tyrone remarked of UK winner Aled Davis. “There was also respect, huge respect, to the people behind the scenes, some of them are no longer with us.” Tyrone is referring to his father Teddy, whom he lost 14 years ago, and his mother Suzy, who has cancer. “This is for them, and the whole of South Africa, especially for those who believed in me.”

 

A LONG WAY TO GO

For the Durban born and bred, 36 year old Tyrone it was a long journey to the podium.

“You know,” he says with a smile as broad as the Limpopo, “it was always my dream to wear the green and gold. Even as a three-year-old I used to dream of it. It’s also a patriotic thing. I’m a born and bred South African, and proud of it! My journey to standing on the podium with that medal in my hand has been 33 years in the making.”

Tyrone has been an IT Specialist at Toyota South Africa Motors (TSAM) for the past 11 years. While in Rio, it was all about Games, but also some fun, as he says there was a little time for recreation.

“I got to spend time with some great people from the Brazilian Paralympic Committee, and one of the things we did was help disabled kids with surfing down at the beach. There was one boy who lost a leg when he was hit by a drunk driver.”

Above all else it’s uplifting others that lights up Tyrone’s life. “It’s really special to be in a position to help and assist others, you know.

Tyrone was born with an abnormality of the left foot and is categorised as an above-knee amputee. This is something that has never stopped him from living not only a full life, but a life far fuller than that of many able-bodied individuals. When he entered the field of disabled athletics, he was pleasantly surprised.

“When I first got involved it was an eye-opener. I had no idea disabled sports was so competitive. It was this awakening that motivated me to better myself, and really take the sport seriously.”

Since 2009 he has been doing just that, and with huge success. For instance, he’s walked away with a gold medal at the SA nationals, and in 2012 made it as far as the provisional SA Paralympic Squad for London.

Closer to home, he is deeply involved with an organisation called Jumping Kids, which was founded in 2009 with the dream of supplying the latest prosthetic limbs to youngsters, specifically disadvantaged ones, living with amputations. He is also affiliated and supported by Icexpress Prosthetics, and while he might be of a comparatively advanced age by athletic standards, he has no plans to quit being the best he can – and to carry on competing.

“It’s a privilege to be in a position to motivate and inspire others,” as he says with his trademark smile.

As Bruce Lee put it – in a quote that seems to sum Tyrone rather aptly: “Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.”