One day I was sitting with my younger brother Juju, and I heard inside me whispering that I am my greatest competition. I was in Grade 10 and 16 years of age. My mother was a domestic worker and only God and my mother knew my father. We were living in a one-roomed shack.

At 6 o’clock in the morning the rooster always croaked and I knew I had to wake up; I used it as an alarm. I would wake up, brush my teeth and wake my little brother to bath him and prepare him for school. My mother would be long gone by then, she used to catch the very first train at 4:00 a.m. while it is still dark outside.

Of course, she hated the job because she didn’t like waking up so early but she had no choice; she needed money to provide for us. She would always say, “Please my children, one day make me proud,” and I would nod my head to agree. We were living in Site B, Cape Town and the shack we were living in didn’t belong to my mother but to her friend who had a house in Khayelitsha. My mother had to pay rent every month.

I despised the situation I was living under. I would always look at the other children and compare myself with them, and end up crying. I never had a phone while there were 7-year olds who had smartphones. As time went by I would see beautiful cars dropping my mother off at home and she would come home with plastic bags full of goodies. I noticed that my mother was a prostitute although she never stood on the streets like the ordinary ones.

What does she give these men that she comes home with plastic bags full of goodies?

I remember quite well when I was 17 years old and doing Grade 11, my mother was brought home by my dream car, a Ford Fortuner. The thin, tall and ugly man grabbed my butt so tight, I was disgusted. I saw it on her face that she did not like this, she was cornered. She came in the house with her usual beautiful smile but I just ignored the smile and went to take out my mattress to sleep.

When I was about to sleep she came over my head and said, “My son, never get both your feet in wet cement and wait until it dries up, you will regret it for your entire life.” This phrase kept on ringing in my head the whole day and night. Even now it is still alive in mind.

On weekends I would go with my friend to swim at the dam; that is what I enjoyed doing the most. When we were racing with my friends I would open a huge gap between myself and them and would always be the number 1 winner. There was no DSTV at home and I struggled watching my favourite sport, swimming, and seeing my role model Chad Le Clos.

When I was swimming, I would always forget all my problems at home and at school, it’s where I found inner peace. The situation at home became worse but we were financially stable. I do not know how because my mother had just stopped working. She was complaining of being tired of working, waking very early in the morning and cleaning someone else’s house while she left her children at home. When she quit the job I was 18 years old and doing matric, Juju was 12 years and doing Grade 7. There is a six year gap between us and I play-bullied him, playing wrestling, hide and seek, and sometimes we would bath together.

Since I was in matric, I never went to the dam for swimming with my friends because studies kept me very busy. There was a man called Sipho who I did not know but he knew me. One day he came to my house and I thought he came for my mom, but he came for me. I was flabbergasted to discover that I was his “star boy” as he told me that day.

“I know of a swimming academy that is looking for young men who want to be the next Chad Le Clos.” he said. I became crazily flattered hearing that I was compared to my role model. “Would you mind joining this swimming academy?” he followed by asking.

As time went by I had to drop out of school because I had to be the breadwinner for my home. My mother would disappear for weeks and come back delivered by opulent cars full of plastic bags. The situation became harder when she came back and lived with us. She did not come back home just fine but she came back with sickness, she was HIV positive.

Sipho visited us every week and he could clearly see the predicament Juju and I were in. He still insisted that I join the swimming academy because it would change my whole life and I would stop cleaning people’s toilets. Years went by and I was still cleaning toilets in the Municipality Hall. I saw this life was taking me nowhere and Sipho had stopped visiting me, he had given up on me. I went to Sipho’s house and he was no longer there. I tried looking for his number but I could not get it.

When I was tracing Sipho’s footsteps, my mother got very sick. I could not afford her medicine; Sipho was my last hope in this earth.

Some years after, in 2035, Sipho visited me. It was 2 years after I finished my matric and I was jubilant to see him and I told him that I agree to go to that swimming academy.

It is now 2044 and I am a gold medallist on the Olympics. I have my own assets and I have saved my mother and served my community by bringing change in youth and support the sport that I participate in.