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Durban - Cedric Mkhize had the world at his feet as a rising Sharks rugby player. But when he was partially paralysed in a car crash and confined to a wheelchair, life changed drastically.
Apart from having to deal with the harsh reality of never walking again, the promise of a lucrative career fizzled. Then he lost most of his friends.
His next biggest fear was that his beautiful girlfriend, Lee-Ann, would turn her back on him. But she stuck by her man.
Three years after getting married, the couple welcomed their first child into the world this week.
The baby girl, named Peyton Leigh, was born on Tuesday at Westville Hospital, and weighed 2.68kg.
“When my wife woke me after midnight on April 1 to say her water had broken, I thought she was playing an April Fool’s joke on me.
“But when I saw that she was panicked, I knew that it was real and the moment had finally arrived. I didn’t know what to do in that moment as I started to panic too,” he said with a laugh.
Quickly gaining his senses, he dressed and took her to the hospital, where his daughter was born later that night.
While Peyton made an unexpected arrival - her due date was April 29 - the Mkhizes were thrilled to take their healthy bundle of joy home on Friday.
“We didn’t sleep the first night she was home. We kept waking up to check up on her whenever she made a sound,” Lee-Ann said.
“But we are adapting. We are taking advice from friends who have recently had kids, as well as from family. But Google is proving our biggest help as a parenting tool - it has the answers for everything,” she said, amused.
Mkhize is thankful for his wife’s support.
“That Lee-Anne stood by me through everything, I don’t know how to put into words what I feel… what she has done for me. A lot of people would have walked away, but she stuck by me and I truly appreciate her for that.
“She saw beyond me not being able to walk. It wasn’t about how big a rugby star I was going to be but me as a person. I have seen it happen to other people where after an accident the partner says it is too much and walks away, but she didn’t,” an emotional Mkhize said.
He was badly injured in a car crash outside Welkom in 2007. While contracted to the Sharks, he was on loan to the Free State Griffons.
A tyre burst on the car carrying him and four team-mates, causing it to overturn. Two of his team-mates died instantly.
As Mkhize gazed at his daughter, he said life had moved on and he had achieved a good balance.
He works at Sibaya Casino as a learning and development officer. Lee-Ann is a school teacher.
Mkhize also hopes to get involved in more awareness work, having participated in the aQuelle Tour Durban race, Amashova and the Add Hope Campaign after being introduced to hand-cycling.
But for now the focus is on his daughter, who he admits is already the apple of his eye.
“Her birth was a very special moment for us. I think I am going to have a soft spot for my little girl. I think I am going to spoil her too much.
“She is going to bring us such joy and happiness and we are looking forward to every moment,” he said.
Though more children were on the cards, Mkhize said they would wait a few years. And he is confident the latest addition to the Mkhize family will be a Sharks supporter, like her dad.