The Official: Dr. Phatho Cele-Zondi

Throughout pursuing an MBchB, Phatho Cele always maintained an avid interest in sport. Insofar as this interest was not a primary predicate to her studies, Phatho was guided by game players the likes of Dr. Tim Noakes and attributes these advisors along the way to having directed her career path. Encouraged to keep the fire burning, Dr. Cele-Zondi – now Head of Product and Service Providing at hpc’s Sport Science Medical Unit – has been a healing hand to ranks of the Blue Bulls, the Bantwana and Basetsana national football teams, on the 2010 FIFA-WC call, for the Baby Bok’s and, most recently, London2012’s TeamSA.

I enjoyed a double-dose of excitement upon arriving to meet Dr. Cele: on one hand, having the opportunity to interview Dr. Phatho Cele-Zondi [PCZ] and on the other, being able to interact with her at ease as if we’d shared plenty of conversations before. 

Dr. Phatho Cele Zondi (right)

Do you follow a particular practice philosophy?
Following firmly on the path of the Hippocratic Oath to do the athlete no harm, PCZ follows a free philosophy which revolves around preventing exposing the athlete to injury or risk and, primarily, to bring the athlete joy. More often than not, this role is an expansive one and dependent on the rapport and relationship that one has built with the athlete – it ranges from the management of injuries, to fulfilling the functions of a coach, nutritionist and friend.

If you weren’t in your current career field, which career path would you have otherwise
Currently a clinician and lecturer in at the University of Pretoria, PCZ has a sure passion for (childhood) development and is also swift to acknowledge the role of sport in addressing the deeper socio-health needs in South African communities. The beautiful doctor could have otherwise seen herself in the public health and primary care department of medical sciences if not in sport.

What have you found to be the best way to handle challenges faced as a female in a historically male-dominated industry?
As a female in a(ny) historically male-dominated industry, the fact is that challenges and the situations that they pose come and go. PCZ has found that – one needs to use challenges to his / her advantage as a form of improvised energy. It is important to rightfully acknowledge one’s own mistakes, but it is vital to be able to seek within oneself and pick oneself up from a determination and resolve to grow in competence.

What motivates you on a Monday morning?
PCZ finds it difficult to drag her feet on a Monday morning as all facets of her job are easy to get absorbed into. She boldly asserts “I really love my job!” and appreciates being able to make an important contribution even beyond injuries in sport. From seeing her eyes light up and hearing
her tone pitch, it is a genuine happiness that building the futures of academy, amateur and professional athletes through sport medicine science brings to her.

How do you motivate athletes at their best – and / or worst – of form?
With the chief role to alleviate illness and injury, much of PCZ’s motivation of athletes is done from a healing perspective. The doctor has seen athletes come from some of the most difficult conditions to be where they are mentally, competitively and physiologically. “It is very important to establish a relationship with the athletes into what drives and motivates them.” By tapping into where the athlete is coming from and where they are looking to be, it helps as a form of positive reinforcement.

In 5 words, describe your tenure as TeamSA’s Medical Officer at the London2012 Olympic

Humbling, Inspiring, Eye-opening, Perspective, Intensive

The word multi-faceted rings a bell when thinking of the sporting codes in which you have
been involved – off of the field, what keeps you busy and fit?
“I’ve been very fortunate to be involved across a variety of sports,” PCZ admits. Having completed runs in Half-IronMan, the active doctor currently enjoys triathlon competition and is preparing for the IronMan. It is also the blessing of family and friends who are as equally motivated as she is who help to “keep a balance” between work and relaxation time.

The doctor spoke on national sport and recreation, emphasizing the need for specialized knowledge and skill as fundamental to how South Africa can continue to build its sport development base. Where the discipline of physician meets the discipline of sportsperson, Dr. Phatho Cele-Zondi is living her special, passion-filled life.


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