Meet the Eastern Cape farmer who herds sheep in a wheelchair

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Sarel Hayward has been farming for almost 20 years and isn't letting his disability stop him. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Sarel Hayward has been farming for almost 20 years and isn't letting his disability stop him. (PHOTO: Supplied)

He has survived not just one but two horrific car crashes and yet despite not being able to walk, Sarel Hayward insists his life isn't a tragedy. The Karoo farmer is sharing his incredible story in the hope it will inspire others.

Sarel was just four years old when he was involved in an accident caused by a drunk driver that left him an orphan, claiming his father Willie, mother Elma and younger brother Willem's lives. 

"It was a Sunday morning," Sarel (40) tells YOU.

The family of four was taking a road trip from Umhlanga near Durban to Pretoria and were crossing a bridge when the drunk driver forced their car off the road and his father lost control.

"I fell sleep in the backseat, so I don't remember much about the accident other than waking up in hospital," Sarel says.

Having broken his pelvis, Sarel had to get used to being carried around and pushed in a wheelbarrow when needed.

Willie's brother, Antoine Hayward and his wife, Susan, adopted him and in time he came to regard them as his parents.

He moved to the Eastern Cape, where the couple resided on a farm in Steytlerville, and his journey to recovery began. 

(Photo: Supplied)
He grew up on a farm and has always loved nature and the outdoors. (Photo: Supplied)

After several years, Sarel learned to walk again. His fondest memory of being a farm boy was waking up at dawn to go hunting with Antoine, who he came to regard as his father. 

"Running carefree in the veld as a little boy with the dogs as we chased jackals and then enjoying the sunrise was one of my many favourite childhood memories," he recalls.

After graduating from high school he moved to the Western Cape, where he studied agricultural economics at the University of Stellenbosch. 

In 2006 he landed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work as a farm worker in the United States.

"I had always wanted to go overseas and when the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed it with both hands," he says. 

"I moved to South Dakota where I worked on a crop farm which was an amazing experience. I met some of the best people and truly got to experience American culture in its glory."

After spending a year away he was ready to return home and put his newly acquired skills to good use on the livestock farm in Steytlerville that he'd bought in 2002 before he'd left.

 (Photo: Supplied)
Sarel herds his livestock from his wheelchair. (PHOTO: Supplied)

But his farming career was almost cut short when he was involved in another terrifying accident that once again cost him his mobility. 

It's been 14 years since the accident that nearly claimed his life, but Sarel remembers it like it was yesterday. 

"It was 21 October 2007 on a Sunday morning, and I had just helped one of my farm workers wives welcome their baby girl since we were so far out in a remote area and no ambulance was available."

After going to church he was on his was to his parents' farm for lunch when he lost control of his bakkie about 600 metres from the family homestead.

"I had driven on the road many times," he says. "The crash caused such a racket that it alerted nearby workers who came to assist me."

(Photo: Supplied)
His wife, Gerda (30) is his support and champion. They grew up together but only started dating in 2012 and officially wed in 2017. (Photo: Supplied)

He remembers being in excruciating pain and when he was taken to hospital, he was told he'd not only broken his back and neck but also twisted his spinal cord, which meant his chances of walking again were virtually zero. 

"I just accepted what they were telling me," he says.

Sarel now runs his farm from his wheelchair. He also uses drones and specialised vehicles to monitor and manage his land with the help of his employees.

"There are adapted features like levers instead of accelerating paddles in some of the farm vehicles," he explains. 

With the loving support of his wife Gerda (30) whom he grew up with but only started dating in 2012 and officially wed in 2017, Sarel believes that the world is his oyster. 

"To many people what has happened to me was a tragedy but for me it was a stepping stone that allowed me to change the situation to my favour, despite the circumstances," he says.

 (Photo: Supplied)
The agricultural economist believes that everything that has happened in his life has been a stepping stone and not a tragedy. (PHOTO: Supplied)

And despite what the doctors told him, he still believes he will walk again one day. If he did it once before, he can do it again.  "It's important to accept that your path is mapped out for you but accepting doesn’t meant it will bar you from what you believe," he says.

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