THERE’S AN OLD SAYING: ‘You can’t truly appreciate the top if you’ve never hit rock bottom.’ Annie Bothma has experienced not one but two major setbacks in her 23 short years.
The first was when she stopped growing – at the age of 11. The athlete from Stellenbosch spent the next eight years of her life going from one doctor to the next, none of whom could identify the root cause of her condition.
People can be cruel. A rumour that Bothma had an eating disorder spread like wildfire among her fellow students at Bloemhof High School.
Bothma remembers the day her relationship with running began: it was on the beachfront, during the December holidays. She ran to escape her feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem.
Despite struggling with her health, Bothma found that because of her slim build, she excelled at long distance running. As a result, her self-esteem grew; she began to feel strong and free. She raced her first 10-K at just 14 years old, clocking a lightning-fast time of 38.17 and placing fourth among a field of grown women.
Under the guidance of Bennie Stander, who has coached her since she was 16 years old, Bothma made it to the junior South African Cross-Country trials, where she placed third, securing entry to her first IAAF World Cross-Country Championships, held in Poland.
“Running made me feel strong and capable, and it gave me something to look forward to,” Bothma says. “But I had low blood sugar and low blood pressure because of my condition, which made me feel light-headed. So I had to plan my eating ahead of training, to make sure my blood sugar