Johannesburg - When Kgothatso Montjane broke down and cried mid-speech during the announcement of her partnership with cosmetic giant Avon South Africa, those in attendance reacted by giving her a resounding round of applause.
The ace wheelchair tennis player composed herself and continued with her speech, thanking her new backers and her management team.
Avon South Africa’s head of marketing, Mo Hukamdad, could not help but see a good omen in the situation – “This is good practice for Wimbledon,” he said.
He described Montjane’s tearful speech as a good omen for the future, having seen how champions of the major tennis tournament almost always cry when making their victory speeches.
Later on, when addressing the media, Montjane admitted to having been inspired by what Hukamdad said.
“That’s the dream, to make the victory speech at Wimbledon. I don’t know if I will be as emotional as I was earlier on though,” she said.
Having come close to lifting the much-coveted tennis title by finishing as a runner-up at the London tournament last year, Montjane is intent on going one better.
“Wimbledon seems to be my lucky charm tournament,” she said of the All England Club event where she reached the final in the singles and doubles category, having also been the first black South African woman to participate at the tournament
“We will see how the one next year goes. I’ve been close to winning it and that has made me hungrier for it than the other ones. So when I go to the next one, the aim will obviously be to bring the title back home.”
And the sponsorship she has received from the cosmetic giants serves to inspire her to want to achieve. This much was evidenced by her holding on to her South African Open title a few days after the partnership was announced.
A beaming Montjane, shining on the court and speaking confidently about winning Grand Slams, is a far cry from the struggling athlete she was only a few years ago. Back then, without proper management and with no sponsorship partners, Montjane found herself seeing no reason in continuing with the sport.
“It can be very discouraging when you don’t have support as a sports person. I was barely hanging on by a thread, hoping that someone would recognise my talent and come to back me up, but things were just not getting better. I felt I’d reached a dead end, so much so that I seriously considered quitting because it just was not making sense.”
Kgothatso Montjane plays her first grand slam singles final @Wimbledon today. @KGMontjane1 may the serves be sound and the forehands flow as you continue to fly the flag. You will have your coach and the entire country with you. You’ve already made us proud. Let’s ace this one!🇿![CDATA]>🇦 pic.twitter.com/nA5dMuMn92— Cyril Ramaphosa 🇿![CDATA]>🇦 #VoteANC (@CyrilRamaphosa) July 11, 2021
But then a good Samaritan in the form of Optimize Management Agency came along and turned her life around.
“We are here because of Optimize. I am grateful that they came into my life at the right time because I was completely losing it.
“They have helped rescue my career and now I am no longer a struggling athlete. Their support has been great, they’ve helped me get sponsors that I never thought I’d have. I’m very lucky to have them as part of my management team. They’ve made me a shining star.”
While her management team and financial backers have played a great role in ensuring her career continues to the extent that she’s now seeing success at Wimbledon as a possibility, it is the role that her mother played in her life that the 35-year-old lass from Seshego near Polokwane in Limpopo, is most grateful for.
“It has not been easy for my parents to raise a child with disabilities. They saw how badly society treated me when I was a child but they have always been supportive of me and they allowed me to be who I am and did their best to make sure that I was happy.”
When she took on the sport of wheelchair tennis, her parents backed her – the fact they had no idea what it entailed notwithstanding.
“They had no idea what the sport was about, but they supported me and for that I’ll always be grateful. If I can give advice to any parents with disabled children, I’d tell them to allow the children to be.
“They must never hide them as is often the norm in our society. Allow them to go out and play and give them the chance to be themselves and discover their talents.”
She discovered hers and she’s done so well in it that she has become an inspiration to not only the disabled but South Africa as a whole, in fact, the continent.
A four-time Paralympian, Montjane is a former winner of the South African Sportswoman with Disability award and boasts victories in the Belgian and Swiss Open tournaments among her major successes.
Perhaps her major feat is she is the first African wheelchair tennis player to have participated in all the tennis Grand Slams – Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open and French Open.
It is a major feat, one that should have seen her celebrated as a heroine and role model. But for a while even after she’d played in those big tournaments, Montjane found it hard to make ends meet. She considered leaving the sport that has helped give her the confidence many a disabled people lack – until Optimize Agency came along and helped turn things around for her.
And now, with Avon South Africa by her side as a partner, Montjane is anticipating the future with glee.
“This partnership with Avon brings me peace. It brings me new motivation and that’s all I ever wanted.
“As an athlete, I just want to focus on my sport and not worry about the other stuff. It is good to know that everything else will be taken care of for me and that I just have to do my job on the court.
“I’ve been doing well, but now with this partnership, I’ve got a good reason to push even more.”
And the hope, hers and her backers’, is that she pushes hard enough to end up making that tearful victory speech at Wimbledon.