Athlete. Icon. Activist.
These were the words used to describe Caster Semenya, the South African sporting hero who rose to fame after sprinting to glory on the sporting stage back in 2009, at the launch of her book, The Race to Be Myself: A Memoir by Caster Semenya.
The event was held at the Johannesburg Business School (JBS) Auditorium on Monday, 20 November 2023, where attendees gathered to hear some of the celebrated icon’s insights and personal experiences. The launch was moderated by University of Johannesburg (UJ) Community Engagement Specialist, Lebogang Ayobiojo.
Welcoming guests, JBS Centre for Entrepreneurship Director Machaka Mosehana set the tone for the event with a poignant quote from the book: “For those who are born different and feel they don’t belong in this world, it is because you were brought here to create a new one. These words are a universal struggle that we can all find resonance with. These are the struggles of acceptance and the right to be oneself.”
She added that the one key revelation that struck out from the book was that discrimination often is a defensive reaction, an attempt to prevent a certain class of people and prompts the question – who is really threatened when one dares to be different?
Semenya’s book explores the middle-distance runner’s journey as a young girl who was accepted for who she was in her community to the international legal battle surrounding her physical capabilities as well as understanding her agency, sexuality and athletic ability.
Semenya’s career as an athlete has been marred with controversy following her 2009 World Championships victory where she was made to undergo sex testing. In 2019 new World Athletics rules came into force preventing athletes like Semenya with certain Differences of Sex Development (DSD) from participating in 400m, 800m, and 1500m events in the female classification, unless they take medication to suppress their naturally high testosterone levels.
Semenya has filed a series of legal cases to restore her ability to compete in these events without testosterone suppression, arguing that the World Athletics rules are discriminatory.
In July, Semenya won her discrimination case in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). However, Semenya and many other women athletes may still be banned from competing in sports under World Athletics regulations. The case is now headed to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber for a final ruling.
The two-time Olympic gold medallist and three time World Champion in the women’s 800 metres is still fighting injustice against women in sport.
At the launch, Semenya touched on life growing up, parental support, coaching, role models, the business of sport and the importance of work ethic.
In her book she discusses how her self-worth and healing have lead her to be the woman she is today.
“This book is more of self discovery, self management, self control and understanding yourself. If you don’t know who you are, it becomes a problem. I am a sacrifice to those young girls who can’t fight for themselves.”
Semenya said she hoped the book would encourage and motivate others to seek self first.
“People who judge are the ones who are insecure and threatened by the success of others. I want to educate people and let them know that it is okay to be different. No one is 100%. Everyone has talent and ability. Follow it, stay in your lane and focus on the things you can control. I don’t know what God has in store for me but what I know is that I will go with the flow and as he guides me I will take that lead.”
The Race To Be Myself is available at Exclusive Books.
Watch the book launch here: