Cape Town - Fitness model and personal trainer Marco Pietrowski never imagined that being able to twitch his legs would be a massive achievement.
But after being paralysed in a car crash in December, it’s the first sign that his first steps may be within reach.
Pietrowski, 28, is wheelchair-bound in the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre. The muscular physique he spent 13 years building has gone – but doctors say his body saved his life.
Now, he shows off by raising his hands just high enough to pray, and dreams of the day he can leave the rehab centre to marry his fiancée, Mauneen Hogan.
Pietrowksi achieved professional status last August. That means he is one of the best in the country, and can compete overseas.
“This year was going to be my debut,” he said. He already had three overseas competitions lined up, including the world champs in Las Vegas in July.
But on December 8, everything changed. He had been looking forward to that night for a long time – a chance to hang out with the owners of the World Beauty Fitness and Fashion organisation.
On the way home to Camps Bay, he remembers the back tyres screeching and the car in which he was a passenger ramping on to the pavement and rolling down an embankment.
The driver escaped with a few cuts; the other passenger was unhurt; but Pietrowski couldn’t move.
“Before I knew it I was at Groote Schuur and they stuck calipers in my head,” he said. “It was so surreal.”
He dislocated the C3 and C4 vertebrae in his neck, and fractured C5. He had surgery and doctors are unable to say if he will make a full recovery, but Pietrowski is determined.
“I’m still going to walk on stage. I’m going to come back,” he said – even though his view of his body has changed since the accident. “I’ve realised there’s much more to life, but I want to do it just one more time.”
Pietrowski gives himself up to two years to get back in the gym.
“When I look at my reflection, I do get upset. It’s not about vanity, it’s about losing what I’ve worked for all my life. It torments me.”
Pietrowski’s body was his livelihood. He needed it to secure modeling contracts, to compete, to do his work as a personal trainer – and even simply to travel to work. Without it, he has no income.
“It’s going to be a very expensive future,” he said. “That scares the living hell out of me.”
He has turned to the fitness community for help. The Run For Marco campaign will be held in gyms across the country next month.