Alumni Impumelelo 4

Pieter du Preez para-cycling his way into the record books.

moving forward a lot faster. The physical stumbling blocks entailed learning to understand how his body worked. “People don’t always realise that as a quadriplegic I get spasms, I don’t sweat, I can’t get my blood pressure up. I learned how to catheterise and getting my stomach to work. Once my appendix burst, but because I don’t have normal feeling, for two days I thought I had a nasty stomach bug. Suddenly, I was back in hospital for two months and almost had to restart and regain all my strength from scratch. All these things were the very real stumbling blocks I had to learn about and deal with, not only as a sportsman, but just life in general.” Through it all, Pieter achieved incredible heights in his private life as well as sport career. He is, however, most proud of the fact that he is, as a C6 quadriplegic, completely independent. “I can dress myself in my chair and not just on the bed, I can get in and out of the bath, doing my own ablutions such as a visit to the toilet. Small tasks that people tend to take for granted, but that I, as a quadriplegic, am immensely proud of.”

Not that there was anything easy about the road ahead. Pieter spent 42 days in intensive care, unable to move. Over the next two years, he regained the use of his wrists, biceps and shoulders and today has 15% of the functionality of an able-bodied person. As a C6 quadriplegic he doesn’t have triceps, he can’t move his fingers or hands and is completely paralysed from the chest down. Huge stumbling blocks were waiting to be overcome, but the biggest of these was not physical. It was to convince the people around him, those who were there to help and assist him adapt to his new life, that he could! “I do need help and I do need people, then as I do now, but in the beginning, I desperately needed them to believe in the possible, as I did. I needed to get them on the journey with me. Instead, it often seemed that my talk about, for instance, how I was going to have to adjust the hand bikes made for paraplegics to work for me, rather inspired those around me to help me out of my ‘denial’ and have a reality check.” Pieter says once he got others to believe or even just managed to persuade them to join him on his journey a little bit, things started

It needs a mention that most people with Pieter’s level of

functioning find these tasks almost insurmountable and most cannot achieve that level of independence. As far as sport goes, that day he became the first quadriplegic to complete a full Ironman triathlon, will forever stand out as his biggest achievement. “It was all about being the first guy breaking that barrier. To achieve that was incredibly special,” he says. A secondary achievement closely linked to the Ironman highlight was that other quadriplegics suddenly started looking at possibilities they never thought feasible. Seeing Pieter leading an independent life, they wanted to know how he managed to do it. “People contacted me to discuss how I dress myself, how I transfer, how I get in and out of a bath. The ripple effect made me feel that I was making a significant impact, not only for me, but for others, too.” For now, Pieter is looking forward to the Paralympics in Tokyo next year. “Something as crazy or as stupid as becoming the first quadriplegic to swim the English Channel is also not out of the question,” he adds.



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