In High School, I discovered rugby and immediately fell in love with the game. Training, playing and watching quickly became part of my lifestyle. I lived and breathed it. Following a path that involved playing rugby was my plan A.
But last year in June, I played my last tackle. I was involved in a ferocious tackle that left me unconscious and paralysed from the chest down. When I was rushed to the hospital after that game, I was initially told that I had suffered no serious injuries. I was then sent home without so much as a neck brace. I was advised that I would regain feeling in my body after a few days.
After spending two painful days paralysed in my bed at home, I knew something was wrong. I insisted that my mother call an ambulance. Although the paramedics were hesitant to take me to hospital because of my initial prognosis, I insisted that I needed a second opinion. After arriving at a different hospital, it was immediately discovered that I had suffered a dislocation and fracture of my spine at the base of my neck. I was told to prepare for the very real possibility that I would never walk again.
After finding out my diagnosis, I knew that not only was possibility of ever playing rugby again completely erased, but I also feared that I my future of living a normal abled-bodied human life was also severely threatened. It took some time for me to process this, but I soon realised that living a normal life was never something I was destined to do. I knew I could be more – even though I couldn’t walk, or bathe myself, or feed myself – I knew I had a unique destiny.
It was a special combination of motivation, stubbornness, and a refusal to accept that I would never walk again that lit a spark in me that gave me the fight I needed to will my body to move again. It started out as a small toe wiggle after my spinal surgery, and progressed to me being able to move my legs and feet.
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So far, I can report that I have gone from being paralysed to being able to walk with the aid of crutches.
Further than this, I have also hiked up Lions Head and Table Mountain in Cape Town, unassisted.
Although these feats take me much longer than the average able-bodied, I continue to hike smaller trails here in Durban as well.
In October, I also had the amazing opportunity of competing in the Odyssey rowing challenge for a chance to join Riaan Manser on an expedition across the Atlantic Ocean from the Canary Islands. (Read more here.) I decided to take this leap because I not only believe in the importance of constantly challenging myself for my own well-being and recovery, but I also firmly believe in using my experience as a platform to redefine the expectations placed on disabled people. It is very important to me that, through my experiences, people can have a better understanding of the very real challenges faced by those living with disabilities, but also (more importantly) recognise that the strength and resilience of the human spirit also persists in those faced with disabilities.
Competing in the Odyssey challenge is one that definitely challenged me in a way I had never been challenged before. I was a newly disabled athlete, and had to compete against 9 able-bodied individuals. Needless to say, I was pushed to new limits, but I am thrilled to have had the opportunity properly test out my new quadriplegic athletic ability on such dynamic platform.
I left the experience, although not triumphant in the competition, but having demonstrated my resilience and budding potential to the Olympic Rower, Sizwe Ndlovu. As a result, he decided to award me with a full sports bursary to the University of Johannesburg.
My aspirations for the years to come are to continue recover, as well as to compete in the next Para-Olympic Games. Education, and continuing to grow academically are also a priority for me.
Further, I also want to continue to share my story and my journey. Becoming disabled has afforded me the great privilege of learning to have a special understanding of the endless possibilities of the human spirit to overcome challenges. Helping motivate others to tap into their true potential in order to make a meaningful contribution to their lives and the world is an endeavor I wish to continuously embody and reflect in all my works.