Tharuna Devchand
3 minute read
11 Jun 2012

PMB’s Sanders realises her Olympic dream

Tharuna Devchand

IT has always been the dream of Pietermaritzburg-born Gillian Sanders (30) to compete in the Olympics. Now it’s going to happen, in the triathlon section.

IT has always been the dream of Pietermaritzburg-born Gillian Sanders (30) to compete in the Olympics.

Now it’s going to happen, in the triathlon section.

“As a child, I fantisised about going to the Olympics and really looked up to the likes of Penny Heyns and Elana Meyer,” said the former St Anne’s College pupil who later became the youngest female lawyer to appear for clients in the high court in South Africa.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic [about the Olympics],” she told The Witness.

“Its the biggest sporting event in the world, watched by billions, and I am very proud to be representing South Africa at such a prestigious event.”

Sanders currently lives and trains in London.

“I generally train for about 25 hours per week.

“I train every day except on Fridays, which is my rest day.”

Her swimming, cycling and running regime can total up to six hours a day. However, a week before a race, she cuts her training schedule to 18 hours in a week.

Sanders has been a member of the Seals Swimming Club since the age of six and has actively participated in sports throughout her school days.

“Running and swimming came naturally to me and seemed to be what I excelled at.”

As Sanders grew older, she felt that being a professional athlete was not viable as a career, so she chose to study law, which she practised from 2006.

“I loved my studies, but there was always something niggling in the back of my mind that I might like to go to the Olympics and be a professional athlete.

“Only once I had moved to London three years ago did it seem viable,” she said.

“Europe is the hub of the triathlon world and I was now able to access races all over Europe which I would not have been able to do from South Africa due to the huge cost of travel.”

After working for nearly four years with Venn, Nemeth and Hart in Pietermaritzburg, Sanders realised that she had to make a decision to stop working if she really wanted to be able to train properly and achieve her Olympic dream.

“My attitude is that the law can wait. I can practice law until I’m 65 years old if I want. The life expectancy of a professional athlete is a bit younger than that! I do see myself going back to law at some stage. I really loved my job as a lawyer.”

Born into a sporty family, Sanders’s parents met through running and have both run the Comrades Marathon a few times. Her father represented South Africa in triathlon and her mother in athletics. Her sister has also represented South Africa in triathlons and biathlons.

Sanders loves racing and competing in big competitions. She claims to be competitive by nature.

“I thrive under those pressurised conditions. There’s nothing better than the feeling of euphoria after a race when you’ve done really well.”

At the same time, she loves food, good wine and eating out. Although the hectic training schedule cramps her social life, she enjoys reading, cinema and spending time with family and friends.

While London has its perks, South Africa is still home for Sanders and she sees herself moving back home to her family, the great weather and juicy South African steaks.