No excuses! That’s the motto Darren Thomas lives by.
While he faces challenges like the rest of us, he also has to approach everyday activities a little differently.
Darren was left paralysed from the chest down after being shot and stabbed in a house robbery 13 years ago.
Now a husband and dad of two, he’s sharing his inspirational story with YOU in the hopes it will encourage others to never give up.
This is his story.
“It was an evening in October 2007 at my parents’ home in Northcliff, Johannesburg.
I was 27 at the time and had been living with a few of my mates, but I’d decided to move back in with my parents after they’d renovated, so I could save a bit of money.
I worked for our family-run business, which specialised in corporate and domestic security solutions. So our home was kitted out with CCTV and intercoms and we figured that on the security front, we were sorted. Even so we were on high alert because of a break-in attempt a week earlier.
Some guys had fired shots at my dad when he went outside to investigate a noise but they disappeared as soon as we called the cops. We assume it was the same guys who later returned to try their luck again.
The following week, I was uneasy and felt a little paranoid after my dog wouldn’t stop barking. Something didn’t feel right. I had a licenced firearm on me, knowing I needed to protect my mom and dad.
Shortly after I’d tried to calm the dog down, three guys entered my wing of the house and CCTV footage showed three others waiting at the gate.
I don’t remember exactly what took place in those moments because it all happened quickly, but I know there was a tussle.
When my dad got to me, I had scratches and bruises on my arms and there was blood everywhere.
I’d been shot point blank in the chest and stabbed with a screwdriver in my head.
The robbers got away with my mobile phone, computer, jersey and a TV.
I was losing a lot of blood but was conscious when my dad found me and I remember praying in that moment.
My father called the armed response company for assistance then he rushed me to hospital. All I remember was waking up confused in the hospital a day later.
My life had been changed forever.
Growing up I’d been a super-athletic kid. Anything that got my adrenaline pumping, I was up for it! I worked out and had been a regular in the gym since I was a teen. I loved riding superbikes and competed in various kickboxing tournaments around the country.
But my biggest passion was rugby. The absolute thrill I got from getting on that field was unmatched. I played first team at high school, then went on to play for the under-19s at the University of Johannesburg, the under-21s at Pirates and seniors for Wits. I just loved being on the field and in 2005 I made the Lions Sevens side.
But that active life came to a screeching halt when I was shot.
Doctors explained that my heart had contracted as the bullet passed through my body, missing the heart by one millimetre. The bullet skimmed my spine, causing the bone fragments to pierce my spinal cord, leaving me paralysed from the chest down.
It also ruptured my lung – part of which had to be removed. Thankfully the stab wound on my head wasn’t that deep. I got a few staples for that.
The news hit me hard.
I lost all core strength and balance. Simple things like sitting up were a mission and sometimes I’d faint from exhaustion.
The wheelchair became my new normal. I was placed in rehab for three months at Netcare in Auckland Park, where specialists helped me learn how to get around and do the things I could once do with ease all over again.
I became heavily dependent on my family, something I wasn’t used to. My wife, Lauren, who was my girlfriend at the time, even ditched her goal of pursuing a career in law to be at my side through it all.
The transition was a lot to deal with. As the reality of my life sunk in I began to feel like a burden to my family and girlfriend. There were times that I had no hope. I lost my will to live.
At one point I even considered taking my life, but something told me in that moment it’d be too easy to give up. What got me through my lowest points through the years was my faith and the support of the people closest to me, especially Lauren. She was an angel who never left my side.
While only 10% of people in my situation go on to have kids, my wife and I conceived naturally and I feel so grateful to now have a family of my own.
We decided to move to Cape Town a few years ago and every day I look forward with hope to being a go-getter for my two miracle babies, Kyla-Jade (7) and Bevan (6).
While the news that I’d never walk again was devastating, I didn’t want it to limit me or make me an angry, moping person. Nobody wants to be around a complainer, right?
I decided to work hard on regaining my strength and went back to the gym, turning to trainers to help me achieve my goals.
It’s not always easy. There are days when I get tired and weak and the pain becomes unbearable, but every day I make a conscious decision to get up and do better.
I try to push myself and look for humour to pick me up and keep things moving. I’ll crack a joke or two about leg day at the gym – anything to lighten my situation!
I’m grateful for so much in this life. One of the biggest blessings is seeing how my situation and living with paralysis has given my kids such empathy towards others.
I just want to be able to inspire others to see that you can do anything you put your mind to.
Giving up on your goal is too easy. Remember: no excuses!