One minute, Thandeka Mona was driving on Atterbury Road in Pretoria with her friend, where she was sitting in the passenger seat. The next, she was being told she'd never walk again.

After the terrible car accident in July 2011 left this young woman a paraplegic initially dependent upon others, the journey has been long and marked by challenges for Thandeka and her mother, Nomkhosi Mthethwa.

Remembering the dark day that changed her life forever, Thandeka explains that her support structure and spirituality helped her through this ordeal. “The accident left me a T8-T9 paraplegic, unable to use my legs. Fortunately, I retained good hand control. Luckily I had a very good support structure, my mom and friends stuck by me when I went from being a normal person to being the girl in a wheelchair. I had an operation on my spine and spent three months in rehabilitation. It was quite traumatic; however, my spirituality got me through everything.”

Originally from Richards Bay, Kwazulu-Natal, Thandeka moved to Pretoria, Gauteng where she became a waitress at a Brooklyn coffee shop. While employed there, she joined university as a full time student. “I graduated with a B.Com degree in Economics. It took me four years, but I did it!”

The days ahead were filled with uncertainty for Thandeka, as this 28-year-old saw her vision for a bright future drastically altered. “My first job wasn’t something that I studied, so I was just looking for my big break. Fortunately enough, my big break came after the accident and I got an amazing job last year.”

Thandeka is a proud employee at Nissan South Africa, where she works under product marketing as Assistant Manager. “Entering the motor industry was something I never thought I’d do, but I’m enjoying it tremendously!”

Yet despite the challenges, Thandeka finds hope and optimism. "Today I am grateful I'm alive. It's a different life than I ever expected, however I have learned not only to survive but also to live and enjoy each day. Since the accident my life changed 360°.  I was very active - I used to hike and play tennis and all of a sudden I couldn’t anymore. It takes a while, but you need to get back and be who you are - you learn how to improvise.”

Thandeka’s proudest achievement recently is buying herself a motor vehicle.  “It gave me exhilarating independence and I can drive myself around to where I want or need to be,” she says impressively.

For fun she enjoys reading and love exploring restaurants. She has also found hope and personal inspiration while initiating a project for kids with disabilities in Soshanguve, where she sees glimpses of hope for the future as teddy bears are being donated to underprivileged kids. “You forget about your own problems and are grateful for what you have when you see other people who are worse off than yourself.”

To others that might be facing the same challenges, Thandeka has a message: "I like to encourage other people facing the same situation I'm in to look past their injury and go out and do the things they love to do."