SUZIE, Suezette, Suezette Arendse, this is how she was called in reverence in track and field circles.
She was born in Vredenburg, lived in Paarl and was a Western Province athlete by the time she retired.
Her athletics career started at the Panorama Primary School in Vredenburg.
She completed Std 4 (Grade 6 ) there before moving to Franschhoek where she attended West End Primary School (Std 5 and 6). She matriculated at Noorder Paarl High School in Paarl (Std 7-10) in 1979.
Arendse then enrolled to study teaching at Hewat Training College in Crawford in 1980.
She is a teacher at Rio Grande Primary School in Manenberg, Cape Town.
As an athlete, she’s done it all as a South African sprint and long jump record holder.
She gained Boland primary and senior school colours.
She also gained Boland club colours as a junior ladies and senior athlete. She captained the Western Province club team in 1984. She held WPSSSU, Boland, SASSSA and SAAAB records.
Few, if any, would dispute that she was the best ladies sprinter and long jumper under the banner of the South African Amateur Athletics Board (SAAAB).
As a senior sprinter, she proved herself over many years in the sprints and long jump.
Her records stood until the books closed in 1994.
She was an admirer of the two Sharons, Sharon Hanslo and Sharon Alexander, two of the finest sprinters in the 1970s. She had a cousin by the name of Ingrid Arendse of Harold Cressy who was a terrific sprinter and WPSSSU 200m record holder in the 1970s. Sadly, Ingrid passed away in December 2013. Professor I Arendse was destined for equally great heights in the academia at the University of the Western Cape.
Winning came easy to Suzie, she never really challenged herself in improving her sprint and long jump records, or so it seemed from the sidelines.
That challenge was to be revealed later under controversial circumstances . . .
She resided in Paarl, competed in Hewat colours, a club made up of college and former college athletes based in Cape Town. When this information about her residence and club came out into the open, WP took a stance and suspended Arendse for the whole of the 1985 season, the argument being that she should have run for a Paarl club since she had lived there.
This decision seemed to have put Arendse into retirement. – or so we thought.
The heir apparent, Shaheeda Majiet, grabbed the opportunity in 1985, setting new SA records in the 100m and 200m and, to boot, bagged the SA sprint 200m title at the SA’s in Port Elizabeth that year. For Majiet, it was the proverbial cherry on top!
The 100m was won by Eastern Province’s Wenda Arnolds.
The winter of 1985 had passed and the new summer track season blew in, certainly in the Cape where the southeaster has no friends. 1986!
“There was a reason why I had to stay out of athletics in 1985,” said the softly-spoken Arendse.
That reason was duly addressed.
Arendse made a comeback to athletics in 1986, after an absence of at least one full season. Now a resident in Lansdowne, Cape Town, she was able to represent WP.
On the track in 1986, Majiet beat Arendse comfortably, and she had the young guns, from Heathfield, Tania and Lizle Mulligan, under her thumb, as well, in both the 100m and 200m.
But the true test had yet to come – the acid test.
Arendse had to regain her sprint titles.
The opportunity came at the South African Amateur Athletics Board’s Track and Field Meeting in Paarl in 1986, a track she knew well.
Arendse did so convincingly winning the 100m in 12,3 seconds and the 200m in 25,1 seconds.
No one could stand in her way now, she went on to win the long jump (5,84m) and anchored WP to victory in the 4X100m relay later in the day – job done, not quite.
Cleaning up the field at the SAAAB Meeting and at the SAAAB Prestige Meeting in 1986, she had one more goal, and that was getting her name back into the record books.
She did so in emphatic style.
In 1987, Arendse became the first sprinter in SAAAB to dip under 12 seconds (11,7 secs), and she dragged back the 200m time to 24 seconds flat.
In her favourite event, she leapt 6,21m in the long jump. She had cleared six metres several times and was the first long jumper to clear six metres in SAAAB.
Her records and titles were back – in her name: S Arendse 1987.
She continued to compete for a few more seasons before drawing the curtain on a glittering track and field career.
A fabulous talent, a fabulous athlete, and humble to the ground. That was Suzie.