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JUST AFTER 8AM ON MONDAY, 25 April, I boarded a train from Athlone for Somerset West, outside Cape Town – my regular commute. For the most part it was like any other Monday, except a few delays had caused me to miss my regular travel time. Not ideal, because if you don’t catch one of th two or three peak-hour trains, on that route you run the risk of getting into trouble – train delays, gangsters, criminals… a lot can happen.
I just about found myself in that bracket. It had happened in the past and I’d been fine, but this particular day I just felt like something was going to unfold.
Prelude to Disaster
It got sketchier and sketchier the closer we got to Somerset West. There were so few commuters on the train that it was being emptied at every station, which is never a good thing. Part of the reason why the early commutes are safer is because they stay full all the way through.
Just before Somerset a heavy group of guys [news reports say nine] got on the train. It was just me and a few women on the carriage. All of us had our valuables out and that, of course, attracted their attention.
Fight or Flight
They were heavily armed. I never really thought about it at first – but there were baseball bats; one guy had a long knife; I remember a big thick stick that looked like bamboo; there was a golf club– all kinds of things. It was pretty intimidating.
I was just looking at the ground and out the window and trying to avoid eye contact because if you make eye contact that’s when they sense fear and you get yourself into trouble.
One of the guys approached a woman and without thinking I said something to him. I then got up and went to confront him – he was definitely going to hurt her. I was standing between him and the woman when the first blow came. From there things escalated pretty quickly. It’s a bit of a blur, but I was hit from behind by another guy and then a few others jumped in.
I got into a tussle with all of them trying to defend her, and protect myself.
Then I took a big blow to the head that knocked me senseless. The women were visibly terrified but I think I took most of the focus away from them.
The guys dragged me to the train door, took my bag and threw me out. By that time I was already bleeding and in a pretty bad way.
I collided with a tree – the force snapped my spine and caused internal bleeding.
Doctors say it is unlikely I will ever walk again. Look, that woman could have been seriously hurt so I wouldn’t have done anything differently. I feel that if I could have at least helped prevent that and get them to the station safely, then if you think about it, it was worth it.
People have asked me how I’ve managed to cope so well, and the truth is, I was in a dark place. I could feel myself sinking deeper and deeper into depression. I had a choice. If I stayed negative, I’d be defeated.
But if I battled against the thoughts swirling around in my head, that’s where I’d come out on top. You have to stay positive, you know?
Also, my belief system is really strong – it may sound crazy to some but you really have to hang on to something.
My faith is central to everything I do. Family support is also very important. My family has been amazing and is a big part of why I am as upbeat as I am. The love and support I received before has been multiplied by so many people and I truly can’t express how much strength it gives me, and how grateful I am.
But an even bigger part of my recovery has been finding out what I’m made of. I have been through a lot in my life, and this is by far the biggest test for me. The challenge is to get out of this rehab clinic and, one day, walk again.
I used to be an accredited assessor and facilitator working with kids and teaching life skills. I believe I still have a lot to give and there is still a lot more to live for. I believe that with all my heart. I feel I will always be able to improve people’s lives in a lot of ways. It’s a job that taught me how to find hope in the darkest of places.
It doesn’t matter if I’m in a wheelchair or if I’m going to be walking in the next five years. I’ve always dreamt about doing certain things; I’ve achieved some of them and I still have a whole list of things I want to achieve.
This right here, it’s my newest challenge. I’ve lost so much muscle mass and strength, but I’ll get there.
I’m dreaming the impossible dream. Doctors are telling me I won’t walk again and I’m thinking, “Okay… we’ll see.” But what keeps me going is that I’ve seen people come out of this type of thing. With enough work and medical help and holding on to my faith,
I’m waking up to a new opportunity every day. I have a chance to become a little stronger, a little better, a little closer to walking again.