How This Paraplegic Overcame Depression With Fitness

Kirsten Curtis |

This post is sponsored by Wings for Life; written by Thamar Houliston

Sandile Mkhize was a gym-loving, rugby-playing, Martini-making lover of life until an accident left him paralysed and he fell into a state of depression. Then he found a new purpose through the Wings For Life World Run…

You hit the gym six times a week, make a super mean dry Martini and love playing rugby with your friends and you also really dig motorbikes… until one day you wake up find yourself paralysed.  This is exactly where Sandile Mkhize found himself in 2013 after losing control of his motorbike near Witbank on the way to a breakfast meeting. He broke his back in three places and lost function in his body from the chest down rendering him a T5 paraplegic.

The truth is that an incident like can happen to any one of us at any time – and it’s a lifestyle change that’s bound to leave one feeling anxious, depressed and uncertain about the future.

Having lived an active lifestyle before the accident, it was a massive blow to Sandile and he fell into a state of depression.

“Learning to adjust to my new body is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It was frightening and mentally draining,” admits Sandile.


Finding A New Purpose

To try and get out of this slump he volunteered at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital – chatting to other patients who had recently suffered a spinal cord injury. It’s here that he heard about the Wing For Life World Run through his occupational therapist, who encouraged him to take part last year.

Knowing he needed a new challenge, he signed up for his first Wings For Life World Run in 2016. At the race he not only met the legendary late Gugu Zulu, but also the founder of OCAL Global Nicolene Mostert and the OCAL Global team who were completing their Journey For Change – a 10-day trip from Cape Town to Pretoria that ends in the Wings For Life World Run.

Sandile was really inspired by OCAL’S vision to change perceptions about those who are differently abled and after meeting the team at The Wings For Life World Run he connected with them and not long after became the director of OCAL Global.

“Working with OCAL has given me a channel to get involved in finding sustainable solutions for ‘differently abled’ people,” relays Sandile.

“It was a bit intimidating at first taking on such a challenge. We are still growing and learning as an organisation, which makes things exciting because the potential is there to grow OCAL Global into something special that will make a difference in many people’s and family’s lives.”


Fitness As Therapy

“Getting back to the gym and starting my fitness journey has had profound effects on my life. I used to be on medication to help manage my depression but I have since stopped taking it. The gym has become therapy. Working out allows me to take out my frustrations on the weights and it builds confidence. I’m really enjoying falling in love with training again.”

Sandile now trains four times a week and mostly does strength training to gain all the muscle he lost over the years in hospital and while on heavy medication.

“Being a paraplegic, it’s very difficult for me to find equipment at gyms that I can use of overall training and to do my cardio. Bearing in mind that I was extremely weak in the four months I have been training, my strength has doubled and I am slowly getting my confidence back.”

And talking of confidence Sandile even did pull-ups for the first time since his accident! Watch it here!


Doing pull-ups for the first time meant a lot more to me than I thought,” explains Sandile. “It gave me the push I needed to take my training to the next level and being able to lift my body weight has made me feel like a beast.”

“It’s about forcing yourself to be comfortable getting uncomfortable, because when you push yourself to be in that zone, that is where you find growth. That zone is where you find out what you are made of and that transcends into all aspects of your life, including our mental health. And once you tackle your demons, you realise you’re stronger than you think.”

“Being depressed is not a sign of weakness. It’s okay to be scared and to voice that. I was, and I still am at times. If I had any advice for others in the same situation it would be to voice your internal struggles is sometimes necessary.”

Sandile is still trying to find his place in the world but his accident taught him the importance of purpose and urgency.

“As cliché as this may sound, I realised that tomorrow is really not guaranteed, so by procrastinating my ambitions I am only cheating myself.”

Follow Sandile and the OCAL Global team as they leave from Cape Town on 27 April and head to Pretoria.

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