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From ‘darkness’ to glory: local paralysed bodybuilder pro’s story

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Bodybuilder pro, Max Kulati, in the living room of his home in the Moeggesukkel Informal Settlement in Kariega with his trophies.                  Photo:CANDICE BEZUIDENHOUT
Bodybuilder pro, Max Kulati, in the living room of his home in the Moeggesukkel Informal Settlement in Kariega with his trophies. Photo:CANDICE BEZUIDENHOUT

After taking part in the World Championships recently held in Slovenia and becoming the first wheelchair-bound bodybuilder pro in not only South Africa but also the whole continent, it is hard to believe that this man, from a humble informal settlement in Nelson Mandela Bay, had only been a bodybuilder for approximately a year.

Although he had been doing powerlifting before becoming a bodybuilder, it was only when he started this sport that Macethantile “Max” Kulati could realise his full potential.

Since he has won several bodybuilding competitions and is at the height of his career with the global bodybuilding fraternity at his feet, it may seem that Kulati, a 33-year-old father of three, has everything that he had ever wanted in life.

However, no one really knows about the darkness that nearly consumed him when he just woke up paralysed from the waist down one morning, eight years ago.

Some would be shocked to hear that he would sometimes sit outside in the rain on his way to town because certain taxis didn’t want to let him in as it was too much trouble to help a disabled man get into the taxi.

“I just woke up like this; that was back in 2014,” Kulati said, as he gestured towards his legs.

Seated in his wheelchair in the middle of his living room, in the small but neat structure in the Moegesukkel Informal Settlement that he shares with his 2-year-old son, he pointed towards the bedroom and said that there was a time when he just wanted to be alone in a dark room and cry all day.

“It came as such a shock to me. I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and not get up. I didn’t even want the door to be opened and for the light to find its way inside, but one day, I realised that I needed to work on myself because crying wouldn’t help.

“They told me that I needed to wear diapers and a catheter but I told them that I didn’t need that. I am not a child anymore and I found a way to help myself. I have never needed diapers or a catheter to this day,” Kulati said.

Kulati participating in the IBFF World Championship recently held in Slovenia. Here, he not only won his category but was awarded a pro medal and became the first wheelchair-bound bodybuilder pro in South Africa and the African continent. Photo: IBFF DESIGN & PHOTOGRAPHY

He explained that doctors attributed his sudden paralysis to a growth on his spine. He underwent surgery and according to the surgeons, they removed fluid from his spine but he would be permanently paralysed.

“They said that I would never be able to walk again, but look at this,” Kulati said excitedly before lifting his left leg up into the air.

“I can move my legs now. I can wiggle my toes too and can even feel when a fly is sitting on my legs, that’s how much sensation I have. I just can’t walk because my abdominal muscles are still dead,” he said.

However, Kulati said that he believes that he will be able to walk again if he just had the necessary medical support.

“The physiotherapists at the hospital can only spend so much time with me and I don’t have money to go to a rehab centre. I really wanted to go to a place like Aurora [Special Care Centre] where I know I could be rehabilitated but it costs money that I don’t have.

“The best thing for me to learn to walk again is to be inside a swimming pool. Water exercise does wonders for the body, especially the abdominal muscles. If only I had a way of using a swimming pool and someone to help me, I know that I’ll be able to walk again.”

In the meantime, he isn’t going to let his disability get in the way of living his life or excelling even further in his career.

“Although I don’t have any sponsors, apart from the one that I got [the other day for supplements] I’ll be participating in a competition again soon and might compete abroad again. Team Max has been helping me by doing fundraisers so that I could travel to competitions. I am grateful that there are people standing behind me every step of the way.”

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