‘THERE is nothing I can’t do except walk,” said Sandra Khumalo.
The 31-year-old is part of the SA paraplegic team that is jetting off tonight to the London Paralympics. Khumalo is the team’s only rowing athlete.
The road to London hasn’t been easy for her. Khumalo was not born paraplegic. Six years ago, she was involved in a car accident on her way to work at the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga, when a truck hit her game-viewing Land Rover.
She sustained injuries to her lower back, and her spinal cord was affected, causing paralysis of the lower body. For the first two years, it was difficult for her to accept that her life had changed.
“I was 25 years old when this incident happened. That means for 25 years I could walk, run and move around.”
She had to work with psychologists to come to terms with her paralysis.
“I used to be in denial, but then I thought I am still alive,” said Khumalo, cradling her sports uniform as she sat in her wheelchair at the Protea Garden Court Hotel in Bruma, Joburg. “It wasn’t God’s plan to harm me.”
She sees herself as independent in every way. She drives, bathes and clothes herself – “everything that normal people can do except walk”.
Before the accident, she participated in sports activities at school but never took them seriously. It was only after her paralysis that she felt she wanted to conquer something physical as a personal testament that she was still alive.
She believes God had a plan for her. The plan was revealed when her husband got a new job in Durban, where Khumalo started swimming.
“One day after swimming, a lady introduced herself to me and told me that I could do well in rowing.”
Her next challenge was to train and find a coach. The coach she found lived in Pietermaritzburg – 90km from Durban. “I was committed to doing this, and so I made the necessary effort and sacrifices.”
Khumalo is not alone in her journey. She has “Team Khumalo”, which consists of her husband Siba and their two daughters, Fiona, 18 months, and their eldest, also called Siba, 11.
“When Sandra had the accident, I immediately took full charge of raising our first daughter, Siba. It was a logistical nightmare,” Siba said.
He had to juggle work, dropping off and picking up their daughter at creche, and seeing to his wife’s needs. He also had to come to terms with his wife’s paralysis.
“Every time I would look at those dimples when she smiled, it would remind me why I am in it for the long haul.”
Siba will be flying to London with his daughters to support his wife.
Khumalo’s first race will be on August 31. It will also be her husband’s birthday.
Khumalo’s personal best in rowing is 6min 14sec – her goal is to complete her race in less than six minutes.
Last night, the Paralympics team were treated to a gala event in Sandton, where President Jacob Zuma wished them all the best.