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Catching up with our Olympians: Shireen Sapiro

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Today I am celebrating Shireen Sapiron, one of SA’s and Africa’s great swimming legends, a 2 x Paralympian, and just freshly qualified in her 3rd for Rio Paralympics in September 2016. She is a great inspiration not only in the sports arena, but in life, a true overcomer after an accident that almost destroyed her. She rose all the way to the top despite these challenges and is a humble and deeply grateful athlete with great faith in God and a passionate love for life.

She says – “I just want to inspire others to be the best version of themselves. I want people to know that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. I want everyone to know that they are worthy”. Her challenge to our youth is this – “I want to inspire and motivate the youth to be around people who are positive and inspire them to become happy, healthy and productive people in society. I want them you surround themselves with positive people and I know they can achieve that by being involved in sport”.


Athlete: Bio / Stats

Name & Surname Shireen Sapiro
Nick Name Fuddy or Fuddie
Date of birth 25/01/1991
Place of birth Krugersdorp
Current City Durban
Height 1.62
Weight 60kg
Shoe Size 6
Club Seagulls Swimming Club
Coach’s Name Graham Hill and Delon Dannhauser
Out of Country events/ meets (most recent) IPC Swimming World Championships : 2006, 2010,2014

Maccabiah Games: 2009,2014

Paralympic Games: 2008, 2012

Favorite City Tel Aviv, Israel
Favorite Song/ type of music Nothing in specific. I enjoy all different types of music.
Favorite Movie Without a paddle and White Chicks
Tertiary Inst Name/ Year University of Johannesburg
Tertiary degree/ diploma BA Journalism
Sponsors None at the moment
Twitter and Instagram names, facebook name Facebook: Shireen Sapiro

Twitter: @shireensapiro

Instagram: shireensapiro

Community projects involved in Maccabiah South Africa
Parents Names, siblings Michael and Red Sapiro(mom and dad), Jason Sapiro(brother).
Shireen Shapiro wins Bronze in the 100m backstroke final... Day 6 of the London 2012 Paralympics. PHOTO HERMAN VERWEY MEDIA24

Shireen Shapiro wins Bronze in the 100m backstroke final… Day 6 of the London 2012 Paralympics.


Q: Firstly congrats on qualifying for Rio! You are one of SA’s top female athletes, an Olympic gold medalist, admired by many, passionate and doing so well in your Swimming tell me a little bit about how you started in swimming and your journey in the swimming arena up to now?

I started swimming when I was 9 years old. At the time I had my hopes and dreams set on becoming an Olympic gymnast. All of my time and energy was devoted to gymnastics. My best friend at the time was very much into swimming and asked me to join her at swimming maybe once or twice a week so that we get more time to play together after school. I agreed and I started swimming. At our first school gala I beat everyone in all the events. I then realized that swimming was something I wanted to take more seriously. As time passed gymnastics started to fade away as swimming became my main focus. I knew that I wanted to become an Olympic swimmer.

In 2004 at age 13, I was involved in a serious boating accident on the Vaal Dam, which left me fighting for my life. Doctors told my parents that I would not see the light of another day, and if I did, I would never be able to walk again. By the grace of God I survived and spent a total of 5 months flat on my back in the hospital. The propeller of the boat had ripped my body in two leaving me with severe damage to the left side of my body. I spent 2 years in rehabilitation teaching myself to walk and swim again because now only one half of my body was functioning properly.

My first gala after my accident was a complete disaster. People I use to beat were now beating me. I was devastated but I knew that giving up on my dream was not an option. My physio at the rehabilitation center suggested that I try competing as a disabled athlete. I was completely against it because I did not see myself as a disable person. After many tears my mom finally convinced me to swim a race in the disable category. I swam the 50m freestyle and smashed the SA record. I think that was the moment where my dreams changed from becoming an Olympian to a Paralympian. In 2008 I competed at my first Paralympic Games where I won a gold medal and broke the World record, I won a bronze medal at the London 2012 Paralympics and have recently qualified for my third games in Rio.

Q: Who are you?

I am a very relaxed “go with the flow” type of girl. I like to think that I am kind and enjoying giving a helping hand wherever I can. I also enjoy seeing others happy and successful. I am honest and reliable. I also think that I am a good friend.

In the future I would like to become more patient. I get really irritated when things don’t go my way.

Q: Why do you have such deep seated respect for your coach?

I have respect for my amazing coaches because of how hard working they are. They want their swimmers to be successful. I respect them because swimming is their passion and I know that they have my best interests at heart. I fully trust my coaches to get me where I need to be.

Q: Explain your career, and how do you balance it with being a professional swimmer?

I am currently a full time student and a professional athlete. I have taken a break from studies this year to focus on the games and will continue next year. Balancing your training and studies is all about time management and discipline.

Q: Would you like to share a little bit more about your faith journey and how it has affected your life / sports?

I grew up in a Jewish home and I believe that God presents everyone in the world with opportunities. We just need to be brave enough to take them. God has given me the strength to become the person and athlete I am today.


Q: What do you do to relax?

I enjoy going to the beach. I was born to be in the water so swimming in the ocean definitely relaxes me. I actually enjoy doing all types of outdoors actives like riding bikes and hiking. I also love going to the movies and spending time with my family and friends.

Q: What is your personal favourite motivational quote?

I have so many but one that stands out for me the most is,

“Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Get confident being uncertain. Don’t give up just because something is hard. Pushing through challenges is what makes you grow”.

Q: You have an amazing testimony of your accident, do you want to share a little?

My accident was only a true blessing in my life. I have met the most wonderful people and experienced things that take my breath away. My accident has humbled me and played a huge roll in shaping me into the person I am today. Even though I have parts of my body that don’t function like normal persons would, I am happy. I have enormous scars but I am extremely proud of them. If I could turn back the hands of time, I wouldn’t change a single thing.

Q: What is your definition of greatness?

My definition of greatness is nothing but pure happiness. I believe that if you are happy with what you are doing in life then you have achieved greatness. Whether it is becoming a mother, landing your dream job or even having completed a race. Everyone can achieve greatness in some or other way.

Q: What’s your WHY ? 

I do what I do because it makes me happy. Swimming is my passion and it gives me purpose. I enjoy pushing my body to become the best I possibly can be. I do what I do because I get to be around wonderful, positive and uplifting people. I do what I do because I know it is a healthy environment to be in.

Q: One thing about Shireen that the world does not know 🙂

I can actually sing really well. As a young girl I always wanted to become a theatrical performer. I wanted to sing and dance like the people in the musical, Cats.

Shireen Shapiro wins Bronze in the 100m backstroke final... Day 6 of the London 2012 Paralympic. PHOTO HERMAN VERWEY MEDIA24

Shireen Shapiro wins Bronze in the 100m backstroke final… Day 6 of the London 2012 Paralympic.

Thank you so much for taking this interview. We would like to wish you all the best for your journey ahead. We look forward to following you as you go from strength to strength. Blessings!



NB – All images were supplied by the athlete to Heslop Sports. If there are any images that are not credited correctly, please email info@heslopsports.co.za with the details and we will gladly do so immediately.

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