The Namibian (Windhoek)

Namibia: Benson Nominated for Laureus Award

JOHANNA Benson's exceptional performances at the 2012 Paralympic Games received the highest recognition when she was nominated as a finalist in the Disabled Sportsperson of the Year category of the prestigious international Laureus Awards.

The announcement, which was made in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, came as a huge surprise for Namibia's Paralympic fraternity. The president of Disabled Sport Namibia, Charles Nyambe, was ecstatic when he heard the news.

"The Namibian Paralympic Committee submitted her name when they were in London but this is the first that we have heard about the outcome. Wow, wow, this is fantastic news and Johanna really deserves it.

This is a great achievement and to put her there among the finalists is justified because she has done extraordinary things for her country," he said.

"We are so proud and happy for her after all the hard work that she has put into this. This nomination will inspire her and other athletes to work harder next year. We have been working hard over the years to bring something like this to the country but it was worth it and we are very happy," he added.

Benson is one of six finalists in the Disabled Sportsperson of the Year category. The other finalists are Patrick Anderson of Canada, Daniel de Faria Dias of Brazil, Alan Fonteles Oliviera of Brazil, David Weir of Great Britain and Alex Zanardi of Italy.

All of them excelled at the 2012 Paralympic Games, but Nyambe felt that Benson would stand a good chance to win the overall award.

"The opponents don't intimidate us. Johanna is one of the finalists against some world stars, but being a finalist indicates that she has as good a chance as the others," he said.

The secretary general of the Namibian Paralympic Committee, Penandino Kandji, was also ecstatic when she heard the news.

"We are very happy and proud. We just entered her name in London and didn't think that she would be nominated so its a big surprise for all of us," she said.

"It's a great achievement for us. Johanna put Namibia's name on the map, but also that of the whole SADC region. She was supposed to get a SADC award now at the Zone 6 Youth Games in Lusaka but could not go there to attend the ceremony," she added.

Benson, who travelled to Windhoek from Walvis Bay over the weekend to give a motivational speech to vulnerable children, was very proud of her achievement.

"I feel very happy and proud that I have been nominated. I didn't expect this so it's a big surprise," she said.

Benson said she was looking forward to the event which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on March 11, 2013.

"I feel proud of what I have achieved for my country and I'm looking forward to meeting some of the world's top athletes like Usain Bolt in Rio," she said.

"I don't know if I'll win but I'll just do my best and I'm happy to be there," she added.

Since winning a gold and silver medal at the Paralympic Games, Benson has become a star in Namibia, but she said her lifestyle had not changed much.

"My life has not changed, it's just the same as it was before. To other people it might look as if it has changed but for me it's still the same," she said.

As part of her newfound fame she has been invited to give motivational speeches and she said she enjoyed the challenge.

"I enjoy it but when I have to speak in front of a lot of people I am still quite nervous."

She is also very popular among the youth and children often go to her house in Walvis Bay to meet her and seek advice.

"The children come to me now. A few even come to our house and if I'm not there they will sit and wait for me until I come home. If I'm not there my mother will call me and say the children are looking for me, I must come home. Some just want my signature but others want to talk to me and meet me and ask my advice," she said.

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