Ernst was born with congenital absence of both legs. His parents, two provincial-level athletes, recognised his athletic abilities and encouraged him to participate in sports. At first, he went to school in Graaff-Reinet, then switched to the Elizabeth Conradie school for disabled children in Kimberley where his sporting talents flourished. He represented South Africa in the 1992 Barcelona Paralympics in swimming and wheelchair events, his track appearance turning out to be pivotal in his career. The cheers of the crowd as he circled the track inspired him so much that it persuaded him to concentrate on wheelchair racing in the future.
At the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Ernst won a bronze medal in the 400 metres. In Athens in 2004, he won two silver medals in the 800 metres and the 1,500 metres, and a bronze in the 5,000 metres. At the Beijing Paralympics in 2008, he won gold in the hand-cycling road race as well as bronze in the wheelchair marathon. In 2014, Ernst won his tenth Boston Marathon – a record number of titles across all divisions at the world’s oldest, most prestigious marathon. In 2016 at the Rio Paralympics Ernst took gold in the handcycle road race.
Ernst has worked strenuously to increase community involvement in wheelchair racing and hand-cycling. He organised an international event in Paarl, near Cape Town, in March 2005 and ensured that handcycling became an official category in the famous Argus Cycle Tour around the Cape Peninsula, and was also fully integrated into all fun rides around the Western Cape province of South Africa.
Despite his wonderful career in sport, he says his biggest personal accomplishment was earning his degree, making him the first ever disabled person to graduate for a degree in Sport Science from Stellenbosch University.
On April 20, 2010 the South African government awarded Ernst the Order of Ikhamanga in silver to mark his achievements. He was also the winner of the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability Award in 2006.
Currently Ernst is the managing director at Össur South Africa, a global manufacturer of non-invasive orthopedics where he has been working for close to 10 years.
Sport Career Highlights:
- Represented South Africa at 8 Paralympics games (1992 – 2021)
- 2016 Gold medal Rio Paralympics – Cycling Road Race
- 2015 New York Marathon Champion
- SA Sportsman of the year 2014 – Dept of Sport and Rec South Africa
- 2007, 2011, 2014 UCI World Champion – Handcycling Road race.
- 10 times Boston Marathon Champion (2001 – 2014)
- Recipient of The Order of Ikhamanga in Silver from the President - 2010
- Won Gold (Handcycling) and Bronze(marathon) at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics
- Won Silver at the London 2012 Paralympics for Handcycling Road Race
- 2006 Laureus Sport Awards: Sport Star with a Disability
- Won two silver and one bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games
- Recipient of the 2003 & 2004 Presidential Silver award for sport.
- Recipient of the 2002 Presidential Golden award for sport
- Won a bronze medal at the Sydney Paralympic Games 2000