For NWU para swimmer Cornelle Leach, 2019 is a golden year, as she has improved her personal times in every competition that she participated in.


She has just returned from the 2019 Allianz World Para Swimming Championships in London, where she improved three South African and African records. Before that, she ended among the top ten swimmers in the Sasol Winter Swimming Championships.


“This is indeed my year,” says Cornelle (20), a second-year BCom tourism student. But it was touch and go for a while as an administrative gremlin popped up and she was not registered on time to take part in the championships in London.


“I was so disappointed and asked how I could rectify the error. A week later I received an email informing me that I had been included in the team, and would be going to London!”


Cornelle and her guide dog


Cornelle and her guide dog, Vogue, are a familiar sight on the campus in Potchefstroom.


Although her four-legged companion has only been part of her life for eight months, she cannot imagine her life without her guide dog.


When Vogue arrived in February it was a big adjustment. “As I could still see a little bit at that stage it was difficult to trust completely in her when we went somewhere. But we got used to each other, and I trust her with my life,” says Cornelle.


Growing up


Cornelle was diagnosed with Stargardt Disease, a genetic illness of the retina, when she was nine years old. This disease causes gradual loss of sight during childhood.


She grew up in Lydenburg and attended a private school where she stayed in one classroom at a desk accommodating all her learning aids. Her sight deteriorated drastically in Grade 11 and 12 so she completed her schooling at Prinshof School for visually impaired learners in Pretoria.


Like a fish in water


“I was in Grade 5 when I started swimming as a sport.


“I realised that I could no longer take part in team sports as I could not see the ball in netball and hockey, even when the teachers tried to make things easier with a neon ball and neon vests,” she explains.


In her matric year she qualified for the World Para Swimming World Series in Berlin, but could not go as she was not registered.


“It was so difficult. For six months I had sacrificed everything to qualify. I got up at 4 am and only went to bed after midnight. And when I heard that I had qualified, but could not go, I was heartbroken,” she says.


Cornell dropped out of swimming for a few months to focus on her academic work, but acknowledges that she was despondent. She only started swimming again as a first-year student at the NWU.


Overcoming challenges


Not being able to read is probably the biggest frustration for Cornelle. Her textbooks must all be in audio format and if not readily available, they must be specially recorded.


Going shopping is a challenge as she cannot read information on the labels of new products she would like to try out. “I always have to take someone with me to the shops, which is sometimes challenging.”


But Cornelle knows that challenges are there to overcome, and makes a plan. For now, she is working on her dream to take to the water in the 2020 Paralympic Games.

Para swimmer Cornelle Leach does not allow stumbling blocks to stand in her way and is determined to qualify for the Paralympic Games in 2020.


In the video sport editor Ettienne van Rensburg from Vaalweekblad interviews Cornelle Leach, who ended among the top ten swimmers in the Sasol Winter Swimming Championships. Since the video was recorded, the administrative glitz that she referred to has been sorted out, and fortunately she was allowed to take part in the championships in London.

No more troubled waters for para swimmer Cornelle