Aged 11, Ilse Hayes was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease a condition which affects the central vision and the ability to see basic detail.
Undeterred she took up athletics in 2001 and one year later was crowned 400m (1:01.42) world champion at the 2002 IPC Athletics World Championships in France. She also won 100m bronze (13.06).
At her first Paralympic Games in Athens, the South African took 400m (1:00.17) bronze and followed this up at the 2006 World Championships with bronze medals in the 200m (26.32) and 400m (1:00.23).
In Beijing in 2008 she won her first Paralympic gold in the long jump (5.68m) and also won 100m (12.45) silver.
Her finest competition to date was arguably the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championship in New Zealand. She ended the competition with gold medals in the long jump (5.80m) and 100m (12.49), where she defeated Morocco’s Sanae Benhama by just 0.05 seconds.
Hayes defended her long jump title (5.70m) at London 2012, 39cm ahead of Algerian Lynda Hamri and claimed 100m silver (12.41).
2013 saw Hayes bring home a Silver for the 100m sprint, gold for the long jump as well as the new championship record for the IPC world championship in Lyon.
Ilse also received the Order of Ikhamanga: Silver from President Jacob Zuma as well as Disabled athlete of the year for Western Cape, this award was given to her by Premier Hellen Zilla.
Off the track, Hayes has completed a Sports Science degree and then her honours in Pediatric Sciences.
She works with children on a community project at the University of Stellenbosch where she focuses on motor development within sports and finds it rewarding to watch the children grow not only with their movement, but with life skills as well.
Ilse: “Through the whole Paralympic movement I hope to inspire others, whether abled or disabled, to overcome their obstacles whether spiritual, physical or emotional in the same way I overcame my visual impairment.