Crash survivor gets back in the saddle

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Copy of ca p6 ronelle inner strength done Independent Newspapers When Ronelle Adelhelms car rolled in December 2009, injuring her spine and leaving her wheelchair-bound, even the smallest things seemed nearly impossible. She is now going to race in her 14th Cape Argus Cucle Tour. Photo by: Heather Bisset

When Ronelle Adelhelm’s car rolled in December 2009, injuring her spine and leaving her wheelchair-bound, even the smallest things seemed nearly impossible.

“Things you take for granted, like walking, brushing your teeth, combing your hair – I had to learn to do all of that again. I was a 46-year-old woman learning how to fasten buttons and do puzzles.”

She still lives with chronic pain and a lump in her spine that delays the message from her brain to the right side of her body. Weekly physical therapy sessions, biokinetic appointments twice a week and 20 pills a day are a feature of her life – but they don’t define it.

Adelhelm has decided to take on the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Momentum Cycle Tour on Sunday. Not only because of her love for cycling – she completed 13 tours before the car accident, with a best time of three hours 34 minutes – but for all people suffering from acquired disabilities.

She founded the Inner Strength Trust last September to raise money for victims of stroke, spinal cord injury, brain damage and other life-altering conditions. When the charity team starts pedalling at 9.12am on race day, it will be 51 members strong.

Comedian Nik Rabinowitz and 94.5 Kfm presenter Ryan O’Connor will be part of the group, along with Dr Ed Baalbergen, who treated Adelhelm at the Vincent Pallotti Rehabilitation Centre.

Baalbergen had already accepted Adelhelm’s offer of membership on the trust’s board, and said he couldn’t refuse when she asked him to race.

“I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in 30 or 40 years. I didn’t own a bike. I hadn’t even thought of riding in the Argus. But when a person with the passion Ronelle has asked me, I couldn’t say no.”

Others seem to feel the same. Since the trust began fund-raising, it has collected about R100 000 in company and individual donations. Cycle Tour entrance fees have also contributed. Adelhelm said cyclists snapped up all 51 of the trust’s entries before the open entries sold out in less than a week.

The trust has arranged to provide funds to its first patient next week and Adelhelm expressed optimism about the future.

“I think my life ahead will just be fund-raising to make this trust a huge thing. I want to bring in millions. It’s really my dream that the trust will have so much money that we can help all people that need rehabilitation.”

However bleak the situation may look for people suffering disabilities like paralysis, she said she wanted to provide the motivation and the means to help them.

“The biggest thing is it’s a choice. It’s your choice in life if you want to make the most of your situation or not. But money makes things easier.”

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