From PhD to Paris: Mhlongo juggles medals, marriage & more in pursuit of Paralympic gold


Mpumelelo Mhlongo is a busy man. When he’s not working his day job as a structured finance consultant at Investec, he’s busy with his PhD in chemical engineering, or spending time with his new wife. Incredibly, in the hours in between, the 30-year-old is training to compete at his third Paralympic Games. By Karien Jonckheere

Come this weekend, however, Mhlongo will be heading to Sun City in the North West for the SA Sports Awards where he’s once again been nominated in the category of Sportsman of the Year with a Disability. He’s up against wheelchair tennis player Donald Ramphadi and golfer David Watts.

“We are extremely proud of our nomination for the SA Sports Awards. Being a nominee at the country’s biggest event that celebrates sporting excellence is always a welcomed treasure,” said Mhlongo of the accolade.

“We have been nominated before but never won it. South Africa is the land of sporting excellence so being nominated has been beyond our wildest imagination.”

Mhlongo, who was born with amniotic band syndrome which affected both his hands and feet, is the current world record holder in the T44 category in the 100m, 200m and the long jump and in 2023 he claimed 100m gold at the World Para Athletics Championships in Paris.

“Winning a World Championship gold medal in the year I got married is definitely a lovely number three highlight in my life for that year, even though it was my greatest sporting achievement to date,” he admitted.

“We were blessed to have many things work in our favour and will cherish that day with all those who worked tirelessly to get me to the World Championships that year.”

Now the plan is to return to Paris to claim more gold, with the Paralympics taking place from 28 August to 8 September.

“The training and preparations for Paris have been filled with beautiful moments to reflect and a big reminder of how we often overlook our health, in pursuit of other goals or dreams,” he explained.

“We have had a few injuries and niggles that have set us back in our plan but probably had the most fun out of any other Paralympic preparation which has been the most unexpected and blessed outcome of the whole process.

“Our target is a Paralympic gold medal but we hope to do it in a way that unlocks the potential we never saw coming.”

But first there’s a trip to take to Sun City where the awards ceremony takes place on Sunday, 5 May.

Mhlongo is loathe to describe himself as a representative or role model for athletes with a disability, however.

“To be honest, I do not believe I represent sports people with a disability nor would I consider myself a role model,” he explained. “My approach has always been, us striving to be better versions of ourselves such that we can be a valuable addition in our community. How that is perceived, is a manifestation of how others then reflect their bias on us.”