Irongirls with steely resolve

Herolene Uithaler

YOUNG muscular dystrophy patient Gabi van Rooyen can only walk with calipers yet, despite the physical odds, she starts her schooling at a mainstream primary school next year – and mom, Debbie Van Rooyen, is setting her a great example by pushing her body to the utmost limits by training for the IronMan next year.

“It’s so awesome and exciting for Gabi to be exercising with me. It has also been something that has been incorporated into the whole family as my husband and all three kids cycle with me,” said Debbie.

She said six-year-old Gabi was originally under the care of Aurora Special Care Centre before moving to Children’s World pre-primary school in Walmer. She has now been accepted for Grade 1 next year at Clarendon Park Primary School.

Gabi was found to have two dislocated hips and a fractured right femur at birth, that require constant physiotherapy, MRIs and routine X- rays.

Doctors told her family she might never walk again, but she managed to take her first steps at the age of one and, not long after that, managed to walk with stiff legs on her specially made calipers to support her bones and speed up the process of developing her legs.

Today parents Debbie and Johann, are hoping their daughter will continue to live a normal life. She will still have many medical expenses, however, and Debbie hopes to raise money for these by taking part in the IronMan triathlon in April.

She is hoping people will come forward to sponsor her per kilometre in the swim, cycle and run IronMan disciplines.

“Gabi is a very intelligent little girl with absolutely nothing wrong intellectually.

“She had outgrown the environment at Aurora Special Care Centre and found it frustrating not being able to communicate with her peers,” Van Rooyen said.

“She so desperately wanted to play with other friends who are able to ‘talk back’ as Gabi put it. She started the third term at Children’s World where she is interacting with age appropriate peers and absolutely loves every minute.”

Clarendon has informed the Van Rooyens they will adapt some of the facilities, if needed, to make it easier for Gabi to get around. The school already has one child Beth Watson in Grade 7, with special physical needs, who is considered one of the top achievers in her grade. Gabi’s brother and sister also attend the same school.

Gabi is looking forward to “big school”. “I feel great, happy and excited. I can’t wait to play with my friends, play tennis and swim,” an excited Gabi said.

Her mother considers Gabi an “adrenalin junkie”.

“Part of her treatment involves swimming with Kevin Paul, South Africa’s Paralympic gold medalist, once a week; physiotherapy; occupational therapy and tennis on a Friday, so she has quite a lot on her plate but enjoys it,” her proud mom said.

Despite Gabi’s diagnosis, the Van Rooyen family is not giving up on their main goal – for Gabi to one day walk like a normal child.

“We will be going to Johannesburg as Gabi will undergo more surgery. They will determine the exact muscular dystrophy that she has.

“They will be performing correctional surgery on her feet to stabilise her left foot.

” Our goal is to have her walking again,” Van Rooyen said.

More surgery, however, means more finance.

“Competing in Ironman is something I’ve always wanted to do. It will help with Gabi’s fundraiser and it will be great for her to experience me taking part in the competition,” she added.

THE family of Gabi van Rooyen is holding a Spring Ball next week Thursday September 7, at Running Waters, to raise funds to cover her ongoing medical costs.


To date she is walking with the support of specially made calipers but Gabi, six, needs to replace her second pair of “legs” twice a year and these cost R7500 a pair.


The charity event will be an opportunity for Van Rooyen to advertise Gabi’s trust fund, the Van Rooyen Muscular Dystrophy Trust Fund, to raise awareness of the fund and to raise more money to help others in the community, who are less fortunate.


“To date we do not know any other people who have children diagnosed with a similar disease,” said Van Rooyen.


“The disease is not curable, there is no specific medication other than ongoing physiotherapy to keep the muscles supple.”

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