Ernst Van Dyk: The Paralympian with a Record 10 Boston Marathon Titles Under His Belt
The Boston Marathon. Qualifying and participating in this prestigious race is, to many, the epitome of running success. And while simply toeing the starting line of this marathon is nothing short of impressive, Paralympian Ernst van Dyk has taken this achievement one (or is that ten?) step(s) further. In 2014, he quietly became the first person ever, in any class, to win the Boston Marathon ten times.
Where It All Started
Despite being born with congenital absence of both legs, Ernst Van Dyk showed a keen interest in sports from a very young age. His parents, both provincial-level athletes, fostered this interest and encouraged his participation in a wide variety of sports.
Receiving the majority of his schooling from the Elizabeth Conradie School for disabled children in Kimberley, South Africa, Van Dyk received his national colors in swimming at the age of 17. But it was only after his enrollment at the University of Stellenbosch in 1992, and subsequently representing his country at the Barcelona Paralympic Games as both a swimmer and wheelchair athlete, that he completely shifted his focus to the latter discipline.
In hindsight, the move from swimming to wheelchair athletics really paid off. With a hugely successful competitive career spanning more than two decades, Van Dyk racked up a string of very impressive accolades along the way:
- He represented South Africa in an astonishing seven consecutive Paralympic games, starting with the Barcelona games in 1992. During this time Van Dyk reached the final heats of his specific events at four different Paralympic Games. He also earned his country three bronze, three silver and two gold medals.
- Van Dyk became the first person ever to break the 1 hour 20 minute barrier at the Boston Marathon in 2004.
- He was voted Men’s Health‘s Man of the Year in 2004.
- He was voted Commonwealth Sports Star of the Year in 2004.
- Van Dyk received the Laureus Award for Sports Star with a Disability in 2006.
- He won double gold medals at the Hand Cycling World Championships in 2007.
- Van Dyk was crowned the UCI Handcycling World Cup Road Race champion in Spain in 2010.
- He won the World Handcycling Championships Road Race in Denmark in 2011.
- In 2014 he became the first person ever to win ten Boston Marathon titles in any class (2001 to 2006, 2008 to 2010 and 2014). This means that he won the race ten times out of the 14 times that he entered it.
- Van Dyk has also won the Paris, Los Angeles, New York and Seoul Marathons, among others.
Life off the Sports Field
Despite his string of impressive sporting achievements, Van Dyk insists that his biggest accomplishment to date has been becoming the first person with a disability to obtain a degree in Sports Science from the University of Stellenbosch. This qualification, along with his wealth of experience and sporting success, has allowed him to excel in his current role as motivational speaker.
Van Dyk is also a devoted business man. His company, Enabled Sport, deals in Invacare Top End equipment for disabled athletes, equipping and enabling them to reach sporting success.
Van Dyk lives in Paarl in the Western Cape province of South Africa with his wife and two daughters.
Lessons from Van Dyk’s Life and Career
Looking at Van Dyk’s long and successful sporting career, there’s no doubt a lot we can learn from this humble champion:
- Never give up! Van Dyk earned his first Paralympic gold medal at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. This dream of Paralympic gold took him 16 years and four Paralympic Games to achieve.
- Fight for what you believe in and make a difference where you are. Thanks to Van Dyk’s efforts, hand cycling has become an official category in the Cape Town Cycle Tour, the biggest timed cycling event in the world. He also saw to it that hand cycling became fully integrated into all cycling fun rides in the Western Cape province of South Africa, where he lives.
- The gear you use is as important as the training you put in. Van Dyk has developed a strong relationship with Invacare Top End, manufacturers of high quality wheelchairs and hand cycles, during the course of his career. He firmly believes that good equipment is vital to sporting success.
So next time you lace up in your quest to nail that BQ, let the grit, determination and success of this humble, inspirational athlete encourage you. Take what you have and give it all you’ve got. And even if it takes you 16 years (or longer!), never give up on your dream!