University of Johannesburg runner Rachel Leistra shrugged off pain in her hip to help the South African team capture the bronze medal at the World Student Games in Naples, Italy, this month. The 22-year-old biokinetics student was part of the women's half-marathon outfit, alongside Lesego Mpshe and Tyler Beling. The race was a team event, with the three times being added together to decide the final placings. Leistra, from Fourways in Johannesburg, was thrilled to come back with a medal as she had struggled with injury in the build-up to the event and said she did not have any great expectations going to Naples. "I felt I was not where I could have been in terms of fitness and preparation due to these injuries occurring," she said. "Unfortunately I felt the pain in my hip with hip flexion and on impact after 3km into the race and that was tough to block out when running such a long race. "My goal was to just run the race as best as I could and finish, knowing I gave it my all despite this setback." Running in hot and humid conditions at 7am, the runners did three loops of a 6.9km course, ending on an uphill. "It was a flat and fast course and there were quite large gaps between us as a team," said Leistra. "But we all just ran our own races, doing the best we could for the team. "In the end, winning a team bronze medal was awesome and I was extremely happy. "Even though I could not perform how I would have liked, I was so happy to have finished with the team prize, making the team and the coaches proud. "To win as a team against the best of the best from around the world was a special feeling and I received great support from my teammates." The UJ fourth-year student, who was attending her first World Student Games, said she had learnt a lot from the experience after suffering leg problems prior to the event. "I was able to push through one of the toughest races I have run, which means I can only get better from here," said Leistra. "I learnt to ignore the voice in my head saying ‘stop you can't do this', even despite being injured. "In terms of looking forward I will always cherish this race and know that next time I am going to do a lot better. Whatever the future may hold it's important to stay positive, even throughout the difficult times." She paid tribute to the UJ medical team, who dedicated two days a week to assisting her. "That helped me to be pain-free two weeks before the games and I was extremely happy. "My short-term goals are to make sure I remain pain-free and become even stronger than before to prevent any injuries in the seasons ahead." CAPTION: University of Johannesburg athlete Rachel Leistra (in dark green) competes in the team half-marathon race at the World Student Games in Naples, Italy, earlier this month. Photo: Supplied

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