In 2005, at the age of 24, Sandra Khumalo was living a normal life with her husband and daughter in Mpumalanga until one day it all changed forever when a truck hit into the Land Rover that she was travelling in.

Khumalo was on her way to her work at a safari lodge at the Kruger National Park when the tragic car accident took place, damaging her spinal cord and leaving her paralysed from the waist down.

Doctors warned that the operation that she had to undergo could result in her losing her life. Through prayer, faith and support from her family, Khumalo was granted a second chance.

Five years later, after relocating to KwaZulu-Natal, she was determined to tackle life again and found new legs in the form of a single scull rowing boat when she was introduced to the sport.

Khumalo has since participated at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Paralympics as well as various international competitions, demonstrating that living with a disability does not mean you cannot dream anew and make those dreams a reality.

How did she manage to change her outlook on life? She tells us about it!

Sandra, it is good to talk to a woman with a story as inspirational as your own. How did you get involved in rowing?

I got involved in rowing back in 2010 when they (Midlands Rowing Club) were recruiting new athletes. I met Hilary Abrahams at Virgin Active gym in Umhlanga Rocks, Durban, and she introduced me to rowing. I agreed straight away to join as I wanted to participate in the Paralympics.

 Five years prior to taking up rowing, you were involved in a fatal car accident. How did that experience change your outlook on life?

“It made me realise that it is possible to do more and achieve more in life as a person living with a disability.” – South African paraplegic rower, Sandra Khumalo.

I learnt to appreciate life every day. It made me realise that it is possible to do more and achieve more in life as a person living with a disability.

What kept you going after the tragic, unfortunate event that left you with this disability?

I was told that I might not make it out alive because of the operation. So, being alive motivated me and I looked forward to what was instore for me. At the time, my daughter kept me motivated because everything I do, I do it for her and now her sister too.

How key was the role of family over the years?

My family has made sure that I have all that I need. They assisted me with my therapy sessions and helped me build up a strong mindset.

In Serbia, you won silver at the women’s single sculls final qualification regatta, qualifying for your first Summer Paralympics in 2012. Take us back to that moment?

There aren’t enough words to explain how amazing and rich the feeling was, and that moment made me accept myself and I fell in love with myself even more.” – Khumalo on qualifying for her first Summer Paralympics in 2012.

That was the most amazing and fulfilling moment ever! I was full of energy and was super overwhelmed with everything. It is always fulfilling to see all your hard work starting to pay off. There aren’t enough words to explain how amazing and rich the feeling was, and that moment made me accept myself and I fell in love with myself even more.

What would you say has been the biggest lesson in your sporting career?

Sport has taught me that we are all human no matter which part of the world you come from or what you have achieved. It has also taught me to have self-discipline and resilience.

And the biggest challenge(s)?

I would say my biggest challenges are the early mornings and having to compete with athletes who have better stability than I do.

What are your thoughts on the sports coverage of those that are differently abled in South Africa and how we can improve going forward?

We need to be recognised! I think we need more coverage on our national and international competitions and awareness via adverts.

Over the past few months under the Covid-19 lockdown, with no official events taking place, how have you managed to keep fit?

I have been training virtually at home, got a gym set up and home programme to follow. I still had to work and cover my sessions for the day which played a big role on keeping my mental health in check.

Which women in sport has motivated during this time?

Caster Semenya and Serena Williams – their resilience always uplifts me!

What are you hoping to achieve in the next five years?

I want to bring back home an Olympic medal and make sure I have all devices and training I need to make this dream come true.

 

Photo 1 Caption: In 2005, at the age of 24, Sandra Khumalo was living a normal life with her husband and daughter in Mpumalanga until one day it all changed forever when a truck hit into the Land Rover that she was travelling in. Khumalo was on her way to her work at a safari lodge at the Kruger National Park when the tragic car accident took place, damaging her spinal cord and leaving her paralysed from the waist down. Photo: Supplied

Photo 2 Caption: Khumalo has participated at the 2012 and 2016 Summer Paralympics as well as various international competitions, demonstrating that living with a disability does not mean you cannot dream anew and make those dreams a reality. Photo: Supplied