December 8, 2010

Simone du Toit’s parents deliberated for two years before giving their blessings to send her on a 9,000-mile journey from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Dallas, Texas. The 20-year-old left her parents, two younger sisters, friends and culture last year to become a student-athlete at SMU.


Simone du Toit practices the discus throw.

Du Toit, the 2005 World Youth Shot Put champion, quickly adjusted to Division I athletics. As a Mustang, she finished 10th in the discus throw at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in 2009 and sixth in 2010. Her shot put throw at the NCAA Midwest Regional was the longest outdoor throw by any Conference USA athlete in 2009, and she recorded C-USA’s farthest outdoor throws in discus and shot put in 2010.

“From day one Simone was all business, both academically and athletically,” says Dave Wollman, SMU track and field coach.

Du Toit is one of 42 international student-athletes attending SMU from 27 countries ranging from Argentina to Uzbekistan. The students compete on more than half of SMU’s 17 teams, with women’s swimming hosting the most international athletes.

International student-athletes must meet NCAA eligibility requirements, including establishing their amateur status through an online NCAA clearinghouse, says Monique Holland, senior associate athletics director for compliance and student welfare at SMU. Nationally, 4 percent of intercollegiate male athletes and 4.4 percent of female athletes are nonresident students, NCAA’s term for students from outside the United States. At SMU, about 10 percent of SMU’s 439 student athletes are international students.

SMU On The World Stage

International student athletes represent SMU well on the world stage. Three Mustang athletes were medalists at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Five-time Olympic swimmer Martina Moravcova ’98, ’00 of Slovakia earned two silver medals along with Swedish swimmer and five-time Olympic champion Lars Frölander ’98, who earned a gold. Swedish high-jumper Kajsa Bergqvist ’99 earned a bronze in 2000 in the high jump. More recently, former All-American tennis player Johan Brunstrom ’04 of Sweden is ranked 36th in ATP doubles rankings while Slovakian Libor Charfreitag ’00 won the gold medal in the hammer throw at the 2010 European Athletics Championships.

Competing in the United States is attractive to international athletes with outstanding athletic and academic skills, Wollman says. “In Europe and South Africa, athletics and higher education are completely different entities. Athletes usually have to make a choice,” he says. “Here they can get a great education and pursue their sports.”

Coached by her father, du Toit began throwing the discus and shot put at age 10. After finishing high school she became a full-time athlete in South Africa, often practicing with family friends and fellow throwers Janus Robberts ’02 and Hannes Hopley ’05, both record-holding members of the Mustang men’s track and field team. With their encouragement, Wollman traveled to Johannesburg to meet with du Toit and her family.

“I was intrigued with everything he said about SMU,” du Toit says. But when she saw Wollman work with Janus and Hannes, she made up her mind to come to SMU. “He is a fiery coach. I knew that was how I wanted to train,” she adds.

A Transformative Training Experience

For du Toit, the opportunity to train at SMU has been transforming. “She has lost 90 pounds to go from a power to a rhythm athlete,” Wollman says. “I expect her to be one of the top eight women discus throwers in the 2012 Olympics.”

Now settled into her second year on campus, du Toit is focused on representing SMU as a student-athlete, preparing for the Olympics and working on an advertising degree. She says she misses the fresh open feel of South Africa, but enjoys the friendliness of SMU students and the beauty of the campus. “When my parents visited Dallas, I had them walk up and down the campus three times to show them everything,” she says.

Last year, du Toit and her roommate and fellow track and field athlete, Kylie Spurgeon, celebrated Christmas in bathing suits in South Africa, where it’s summertime in December. This year she looks forward to celebrating what she hopes will be her first white Christmas with Spurgeon and her family at their home in Owasso, Oklahoma.

“When I came to SMU, my sport was the only thing that was familiar to me,” du Toit says. “But when I met other student-athletes, I realized that because of our sports, we had everything in common.”

– Nancy Lowell George ’79