Janice Josephs’ Life From World Class Athlete To Life in A Shelter By Cheryl Roberts

8 Jul

janice josephsOne of South Africa’s international, world class and African champion women athletes, is unemployed and homeless; this after retiring just six months ago and medalling two years ago in the African athletics championship.

This is the tragic story of world ranked long jumper, Janice Josephs who not only represented South Africa in international sports events, but also medalled in several international meets.

Two years ago, Janice Josephs who comes from the working class community of retreat in Cape Town, was South African log jump champion. She went on to compete in the African championship and got a silver medal in Benin.

Six months ago, in January this year, without warning or notice, Josephs’s athletics career came to an abrupt halt.

‘I woke up one morning and couldn’t move out of bed. My back was sore and injured and needed rest. After medical advice, it was decided I would stop competing in athletics.

‘I knew retirement was coming my way, but not so soon and quick. I hadn’t begun to make any final preparations, although I had begun thinking about the road ahead,’ says Josephs.

Josephs was a prodigious athletics talent at school in Retreat where her raw talent was noticed and her athletics development supported by caring teacher sports officials and coaches who guided her to compete internationally as a schoolgirl.

Despite competing in the era of a non-racial, democratic South Africa, Josephs seemingly always competed in chain. A litany of family struggles impacted negatively on Josephs throughout her athletics life. Fortunately, she was assisted by some teachers and community officials and, when she became a champion senior competitor, got funded by Athletics South Africa and Sascoc via Operation Excellence which prepared SA’s athletes for elite participation in continental, world and Olympic events.

To compete internationally and achieve your best results, one must participate in sport on a full-time basis and as a professional. South Africa’s sportswomen struggle to compete as full-time athletes. Most have to hold down jobs and establish their careers outside of sport whilst also trying to put in the hours and hours of sports training. Black sportswomen struggle harder than white sportswomen.

‘I’ve always been an athlete, since my primary school days,’ says Josephs. I’ve enjoyed competing in my province, in South Africa, for my schools and for my country. I’ve travelled a lot, made friends, met many athletes. But I have struggled and struggled and struggled.

‘My family situation is about survival from day to day. We have an abusive father in our midst, our mother has little formal education. So the family has relied on my athletics to look after them.

‘Whenever I earned some money, much of it went to the family to help them along because I just couldn’t sit back and let them struggle. I was happy I could help them. And then when my body could not help me anymore to compete, we are all suffering, mostly me.’

At one time, Josephs was being assisted and coached by a benevolent coach who took care of the athlete’s needs, allowing her to concentrate full-time on athletics with no worries about where her next income was coming from. She also managed to get her kit sponsored and a car sponsored.

But then it all began to fall apart for the athlete, who has been a sprint champion, heptathon and long jump champion. The coach reached a situation in his life where he couldn’t assist her anymore and Josephs had to look out for herself.

Boland Athletics intervened and offered her a sponsorship so she could participate in athletics full-time. Then, it all fell away again, although this time it happened too quickly and without Josephs having any backup. Boland Athletic stopped the sponsorship and Josephs had no income.

Over the past six months, all her attempts to find employment in sport have found no positive replies for this world class athlete. Without any money, a struggling and abusive family environment, few friends who couldn’t offer much help because of their own survival challenges, Josephs found shelter at a homeless refuge in Paarl where she stayed for three months; the maximum time she could stay at the shelter.

Through people hearing about her plight, another man stepped in and offered some help with a place to lay her head until she gets into employment and can look after herself.

‘I have been through hell and back with my struggles but through it all I’m staying strong for myself. I have nothing. Nothing at all. But I must look after myself. I’m trying desperately to get a job in sport, but so far I have not been lucky with that. I love sport. It’s my life. I want to coach and help young athletes,’ says Josephs who is now playing club rugby and football.

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