In February this year, para-athlete and journalist Palesa ‘Deejay’ Manaleng won gold in the women’s H3 hand-cycle event at the 2018 SA National Road and Para-Cycling Championships in Outdshoorn, Western Cape. Four years earlier, she had lost the use of her legs in a terrible cycling accident. Here, she shares that terrifying experience and her personal story of recovery
I was discharged from rehab a few days ago and this is the first night that I am alone in my cottage. My mother has gone back to Witbank and the nurses and physios are left behind at the Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital. There is no one to lift me up, and I realise I don’t have the upper body strength to lift myself into my wheelchair or onto my bed. I drag myself around the cottage trying to find something to climb onto. I do this for hours on end and nothing seems to work. Finally, I let the tears pour, cursing every moment of my existence as a river flows down my face. I have wet my pants; the catheters are too high for me to reach when I am not sitting in the chair. My ankles are bleeding from all the dragging and banging against objects in the house. I cry myself to sleep, then awake to the realisation that I am still stuck on the floor. I spend three days trying to get myself onto a chair or at least, the bed. I fall, I roll, I drag myself across the floor. I cry, I grow tired and sleep, only to wake up and cry some more. I keep telling myself that I need to do this on my own.
On the morning of the fourth day, I don’t feel well at all. It might be from a lack of food and water, but it could also be a bladder infection. I decide that perhaps I should ask for help, just this once. I live in a cottage located at the back of a house where three boys (also my age) live. After some more crying and trying, I phone one of them. Without hesitation, two of the boys jump over the fence dividing my cottage from the house and lift me into the chair. One cleans my ankles as the other checks my arms for bruises. All I’m wondering is if they can smell the pee in the house. When they are done, I wheel myself outside and stare at Dolly, my bicycle. With tears skating down my face again, I think back to 10 September 2014.
I began a love affair with Dolly in January of that year; nothing could separate us. Every chance I got I was all over her. At night, she would lie outside my bedroom window, under the stars and in full view of the moon. I would whisper sweet nothings to her as we rode the wind. I would promise her travels and she would guide me to my destinations with ease. We gelled to such an extent that I found myself telling her all my secrets. I teased her with the possibility of turning professional. ‘Imagine Dolly wearing the Springbok colours for cycling,’ I would whisper into the wind.
On this particular day, we would not travel to Roodepoort or Krugersdorp; we played near home. We were to test all the little hills and to trace the outlines of the neighbourhood. Spring was in the air, flowers were smiling at us, and we rode up and down the streets of Westdene without a care in the world. I blinked for a split second and landed in a stranger’s arms. Where did the crowd come from? Who is this man holding my hand? He looks like the Hulk, and his Barry- White voice is coaxing information out of me.
Only one name comes to mind, and I try to head her way, but for some reason I cannot move. My legs feel as if they had been ripped wide open and I can’t close them. No one even dares to hand me a bottle of water. ‘Don’t try move, stay still and all will be fine,’ the Hulk says in a calm voice. But his eyes look troubled, and I can’t understand why, because I plan to get up and walk as soon as the numbness has passed. I know Dolly will be damaged beyond repair; my gut tells me that. But I am not worried; I need an upgrade and I had seen some pretty awesome bikes at the Vodacom Tour de Soweto Cycle Challenge. They can call their ambulance. I will be out of hospital after a day or two and backon a bike within a few weeks.
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