Swapping rugby balls for curve balls

2008-03-21 00:00

My name is Cedric Mkhize. I used to be a Sharks rugby player and I’m now a paraplegic, but still a regular nice guy.

What can I say? My first impression of Maritzburg College, when I arrived here in Standard 6, was that of uncertainty, I didn’t know what to expect. But fortunately I had some mates who were a few years ahead of me and they took me under their wings and helped me to settle in. It would seem that friends helping me has become a trend in my life.

My fondest memories of Maritzburg College would have to be my matric year where everything came together for me. Sport was my life and I excelled in both athletics and rugby. A career in rugby was mapped out for me and I progressed into the Sharks team.

The moment of truth came about when I was chosen to play against the Blues in my first game for the Sharks. Everything that I had been working towards became real. The night before the big game, the guys could tell that I was nervous and told me not to worry. When I walked out on to the pitch, I kept on telling myself to forget about the side show and concentrate on the job at hand. I like to think I had a fairly decent game that day. I was selected again, so I must have. I managed to play seven games for the Sharks and I am proud to say that I played with and against some of the best players in the world of rugby.

Last year, travelling back from practice in Bloemfontein, life for me as I knew it changed dramatically. I lost two friends and team-mates that evening. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of them and that fateful night.

I was in hospital for three months recovering and learning to function as a differently-abled person. My spinal cord was severed at my T11 and T12 vertebrae, and my new set of wheels is the one that you see me in now.

I was lucky enough to have come across my mentor in life at a very early age, my primary school coach, Heni Lombard from George Cato Primary. He had a powerful impact on how I handled circumstances that arose in both sport and life. He taught me not to give up hope today because tomorrow is going to be better.

How has my life changed since the accident? I am still the same guy as before; it still takes me the same length of time to shower in the morning. I am still a functioning human being; just my legs don’t work so well. I go to bed every night tired, but it is just a different kind of tiredness nowadays. I used to go to bed physically exhausted due to rugby; now I go to bed mentally exhausted because of a long day at the office.

I enjoy being around people and having a good time. The only thing is that now I am no longer as out-going as before. I rely on people for lifts everywhere I go, but I don’t like to inconvenience friends or call on them. When I do go out, I have to find out if the place is accessible for wheelchairs.

Life seems to be throwing me a number of curve balls nowadays and I often grapple with the lessons in it, sometimes not understanding why this has happened to me. I do believe that everything happens for a reason and life is all about what we make of it.

When asked who my hero is, I respond with pride that I’m my own hero. I have been dealt a hand of cards that not many people would know what to do with and I came out on top. I’m still smiling at the end of the day.

There are a number of people who have been my support structure in this transitional stage of my life and for this I would like to thank them all. My parents have been my pillar of support. My girlfriend, Leanne, who puts up with me daily and always makes me

see the positive in everything. My close friends are always there for me.

And the wonderful Sharks team who have backed me from the first day that I became a part of this large family. The members of the South African Rugby Legends Association have helped me by hosting this evening and always give me advice from the wealth of experience that they have.

And to the most fantastic school that a young schoolboy could ever dream of attending, thank you for being a part of my life even though I have long since left. Thank you one and all.

The support that I have received from everyday people has been astounding. People from around the world have all restored my faith in humanity.

Before I finish, I would like to ask you all please not to park in the disabled parking as one day soon I will be parking my next set of wheels there.

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