An obscure childhood game called “stretchy” helped propel University of Fort Hare student Hlonelikhaya Tida to the provincial long jump title at the recent Eastern Province Athletics Championships in Gqeberha.
Despite being a bundle of nerves, the 20-year-old field athlete showed her potential when she leapt to the women’s gold medal in a discipline she had only recently adopted.
“It was the first time I took part in a long jump competition and my nerves were all over the place,” admitted Tida, a fourth-year BSc student at the Alice institution.
“But I have a coach (George Hlanganisani) who is super encouraging and with his help, and some determination, I was able to apply the strategies I had been taught.”
She confessed that victory had come as a total surprise as it had been her first competitive outing in the event.
“I was so overjoyed, I even went to the bathroom to scream. Winning makes you happy and pushes you to do better than the last time.”
Before the championships, she gave the gold medal little thought as she did not want to pile any pressure on herself. She simply wanted to enjoy the experience.
“But I had such fun that I wished it would not end,” said the Mdantsane native.
Although she did not give herself a chance, those in her close circle might have thought differently as she had a passion for athletics from early on.
“I remember when I was about eight how I loved racing my peers. When I lost to a certain person, I would always make sure that I worked harder and did better the next time.”
Running on the track brought her happiness and the knowledge that many were rooting for her gave her that extra boost, she admitted.
The former 100m specialist’s chronic asthma eventually nudged her in a new direction as far as track and field was concerned.
“I’ve always considered taking up jumping because I grew up playing a game called stretchy, which is similar to triple and long jump.”
She explained that she had a knack for the children’s game and when her condition prevented her from running longer distances, like the 200m, a permanent move into the long jump pit seemed a natural progression.
Even though she went to the meeting with modest expectations, she rated the title as her best athletics performance yet and a “proud moment”.
“I actually went there with a training mind-set in order to improve my performances.”
Unfortunately, her winning distance fell just short of the qualifying criteria for next week’s SA seniors and therefore she has turned her focus to the University Sport South Africa competition in May.
For that, further improvement was on her mind.
“One of the big things I am working on is my hesitation when I get to the board, because I tend to overthink it. I need to work on trusting my instincts more.”