Paying it forward


Swimming champion Ryk Neethling, donates his Olympic Gold Medal.

A decade after a record-breaking three minutes and 13 seconds were etched in sporting history as four South African swimmers claimed victory at the 2004 Olympic Games – Ryk Neethling, who swam the final length of the 4 x 100 relay, has made the astonishing decision to donate his Olympic gold medal. This unique gesture is believed to be the first of its kind by a South African Olympian.

As a form of giving back to the institution that contributed much to who he is today – a swimming victor, turned successful businessman; Ryk has handed over the medal to his alma mater, Grey College in Bloemfontein, at a ceremony held at the school in February 2015.

According to the man himself: “My greatest hope is that the medal will encourage young, aspiring sportspeople to go after their dreams and to achieve what may seem impossible to them.”

To Ryk, the medal is more than just a valuable object; it’s a symbol of a life-changing moment, many years of determination, hard work and sacrifice. However, he has come to the realisation that, rather than keeping it in a safe for no eye to see; visibly displayed, it has the potential to inspire. What better place for this memento to encourage the development of future champions, than the very place that nurtured the champion in Ryk.

Ryk matriculated in 1995 and won his first SA senior title in 1994, while he was still in grade 11. He represented South Africa at the Commonwealth Games in Canada in that year, where he came 9th. He was also selected for the World Championships in Rome in 1994. In his grade 12 year he was the only male swimmer selected for the Pan-Pacific Games, where he qualified for the Olympics in 1996.

“It’s not easy to let go of something that represents a meaningful chapter of my life; but in a sense, the medal and what it stands for has worked for me by opening doors to opportunity and now I feel it’s the right time to let the medal work for others by inspiring them to pursue similar experiences in their own lives,” says Ryk.

Grey College is renowned for its sporting excellence and is thus, even more so, a fitting choice of institution at which to house the medal.

“Ryk is known for his modesty and commitment towards Grey College,” says comments Deon Scheepers, Headmaster at Grey College. “The fact that he is prepared to donate his Olympic gold medal – the first and only Olympic gold medal ever won by an Old Grey – to his alma mater, bears testimony to his loyalty towards, and respect for the school. He is a true inspiration to the school as well as the Grey College community, and his gold medal will find a special place in the Grey Museum for future generations to appreciate.”

Never stopping at second best, Ryk has since continued to forge his way to success, continually ensuring that he encourages others to do so along the way. Based on this ethos, he established the Ryk Neethling™ Swimming Stars™ schools that are dotted across the country in five locations. Ryk furthermore helps manage the sporting careers of swimmer, Cameron van der Burgh, and a number of other talented athletes.

Ryk is now a full-time businessman who wears many hats at Val de Vie Estate in the Western Cape, where he has invested his time and efforts as a shareholder and Marketing Director for the past five years. Ryk is also an ambassador for Legacy Lifestyle. Although swimming will always be part of who Ryk is, he now has his eyes fixed on another prize – contributing to the ongoing gold-status of Val de Vie.

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