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02 July 2021 | in FISU Athletes

Back on track for South Africa’s Justine Palframan

Seasoned track athlete Justine Palframan is working her way back into running and winning ways as she recently claimed two gold medals in the 200m and 400m races at last month’s University Sport South Africa (USSA) championship meet that took place in Johannesburg.


The 28-year-old who inherited her sporting ability from her parents who also competed in athletics and met through the sport admits that she tried every sport before finding two that truly stood out for her, swimming and athletics. “I was swimming and running for Kwa-Zulu Natal, but I chose running because it was where I felt most at home. Running was where I felt I belonged, I loved the people I met and I loved to run,” she recalled.  


Education also plays an important role in Palframan’s life alongside athletics, “I think what I love the most is being able to take what I've learnt in the lecture halls and apply it on the track, understanding why we do what we are doing in training, understanding the recovery process, and it helps when working with my athletes at school. It just all comes together perfectly,” she said happily.


Palframan is currently studying towards a Masters degree in Sport Science at Stellenbosch University (Maties) and is also working part-time at Bloemhof High School as the athletics and cross country manager in Stellenbosch. It is safe to say that athletics forms a big part of her daily life.


Her love for running has spanned over almost two decades, she began running at the age of nine and made her first South African team by the age of fourteen and “has been running ever since”. It is true that with this experience comes life-long lessons for the runner which she has grown from over the years: “I think the biggest lesson I have learnt is to focus on the journey and not the outcome. Constantly worrying about times and qualifying for specific competitions sucked the joy out of my athletics. I struggle with race anxiety and the more expectations and pressure I put on myself, the more anxiety I was having and the more miserable I was in athletics.


I came to the point where I wanted nothing more to do with athletics, obviously there were other life factors involved as well. This year we have taken a different approach, I am focusing on the application of my race, breaking down the race, I am no longer rating my success on a time or a position but rather on how I applied the race, did I get an aspect of it right that we have been focusing on in training. This has made it easier for me to race, it has brought hope back into my running and I am grateful,” the double gold USSA champion explained.


Another vital lesson Palframan has grasped is the importance of her mental health as an elite athlete saying: “A lesson I found out the hard way, it is extremely important for an athlete to see a sport psychologist. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, I see a sport massage therapist every week for recovery, equally as important is my check in session once a week with my sport psychologist.”


Palframan’s new approach towards her running has led to better goal-orientated training as well as improved performances when competing, “Training is going well, I love my coach and my training group. I am training hard; recovery is going well and I am working on my mindset. USSA was a very good weekend for me, I was really happy with my application, it has been a while since I felt so comfortable in a race. I was also fortunate that my parents were able to watch me race and I had a great championship.


Overall I am in a good space, I am taking this year one step at a time. I hope that with the correct application I will be able to qualify for the Olympic Games but if not I will put my head down, focus on my masters and finish planning my wedding,” she said.


Among her long list of accolades which includes a gold (Gwangju 2015 Summer Universiade) and a silver (Taipei 2017 Summer Universiade) medal in the 400m races from her competing at the respective FISU World University Games which she has featured in three times for South Africa. Back at home she has competed in an impressive eight USSA championships, Palframan mentions her gratitude towards the organisation: “USSA has provided me with the opportunity to grow, it has given us a chance to qualify for major events, it gives us race experience and an opportunity to meet new people. I am very grateful for all I have experienced throughout my years in university sport.”


The Covid-19 pandemic has been a serious factor in the way athletes train and ultimately compete even in 2021, “Lockdown taught us as athletes how to adapt, it is teaching us how to focus on the controllables and how to let go of what we cannot control and go with the flow. It can be frustrating when things are uncertain but I have really learnt to let things be this past year and not how I want them to be but just for how they are.


During lockdown we trained everywhere, we were on the farm roads, on quiet roads we found in town, we were doing hills, on grass fields, it was a nice change in scenery and I feel helped me with injury prevention, it obviously wasn't always optimal not having access to the track but we did what we could with what we had,” she explained.


Palframan is inspired and motivated by the ones who are closest to her, such as her family and friends which include her training group: “There are so many people who inspire and motivate me, my parents, my fiancé, my friends, my training group and my coach, they all show me with hard work and determination you can achieve what you once thought was impossible. They have been my rock through my mental health struggles and continuously show me how much they love me. I could not do what I do without my support structures,” she added.


Although the Maties student-athlete has already featured in the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games, she is not putting herself under pressure but rather taking her goals in her stride: “I am taking this year one step at a time, my main goal was to just start again, I love to run and that is what I focused on, the results will be a bonus. I am training hard and I am in great shape, I hope to qualify for the Olympic Games but what is meant to happen will happen,” she concluded.