The untimely death of Linda Bartholomew, South Africa’s Head Classifier for para-cycling, was a shock that brought sadness to many who knew her. Her contribution to the sport was massive and her death leaves a great void to be filled.
There are few para-cyclists in South Africa whose involvement in the sport has not been fundamentally influenced by Linda’s volunteered service in the field of classification. To understand her contribution in this regard is to appreciate how successfully she and her colleagues have levelled the playing fields in competitive cycling, to the benefit of very many riders with physical disabilities.
The classification system to which Linda contributed over decades revolves around research into and the implementation and refinement of classification protocols, which are acclaimed as a global sporting success story. It is a contribution that has elevated para-cycling to the level that it rightly deserves, alongside the able-body cycling disciplines of road, track, MTB and BMX.
Classification for para-cycling accounts for four major forms of physical disability, which are spinal injury, limb, cerebral palsy-type and visual impairments. Within each of these forms of disability, differentiation is made between different gradations of functional impairment experienced by riders. Currently, the UCI recognises 13 different para-cycling classes. Depending on their classification, riders use different cycling equipment, including bicycles, tricycles, hand-cycles and tandems.
Linda’s career as a teacher of children with special needs provided her with a deep appreciation of the role of sport in actualising the potential of young people with physical disabilities. Through her involvement with the South African Sports Association for the Physically Disabled (SASAPD), she contributed to the classification of literally hundreds of children with physical impairments, which allowed them to participate in a range of different sport codes.
While never relinquishing this critical contribution, it was the transfer of para-cycling administration from SASAPD to Cycling South Africa, just over a decade ago, that greatly elevated Linda’s contribution to the sport. No longer was it only her role to enable young children with physical disabilities to enjoy competitive cycling, for example, at national championships; it became her responsibility to enable the country’s senior para-cyclists to compete internationally against the best riders in the world. Key in this regard was ensuring that the classification process was correctly applied, allowing the riders to compete on a fair basis.
Linda’s classification skills were recognised by the UCI, and she found herself invited to serve on many panels of classifiers at UCI World Cup and World Championship events. She often served as Head Classifier on these panels. One of her personal highlights must have been the invitation extended to her by the International Paralympic Committee to officiate, in classification matters, at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Linda’s decade of association with Cycling South Africa corresponded with a golden era for South African para-cycling. In this time the discipline earned medals for South Africa at every Paralympic Games in which the national team competed, with the gold medal win at Rio 2016 by para-cycling icon Ernst van Dyk illustrative in this regard. UCI World Champion accolades earned by riders such as Justine Asher and Pieter du Preez, and the UCI World Cup series wins by a number of other South African para-cyclists over the years, also represent some remarkable achievements. Each one of these world-class riders, and many others, passed through, and benefited from, the classification process that Linda administered so professionally.
Although she will be missed, Linda’s legacy lives on through the valued contributions that her colleagues continue to make in the field of para-cycling classification in South Africa.