Reader Profile - Quads become 4x4 Warriors
Bennie Erasmus, a 24 year old quadriplegic with a C5/C6 spinal cord injury, is a man on a mission. He became a quadriplegic six years ago after a dreadful car accident while on a fishing trip with friends.
“We were driving in my Land Rover Discovery 1 when my friend suddenly drove off the road and I went through the windscreen. I broke my neck. I was awake after the accident. Lying next to the vehicle, I had 12 hours to think about what had just happened - we were only discovered the next morning around 07:00. I had quite a lot of time to come to realisation with my situation.”
Bennie is a passionate rugby player and very talented - so talented that he has been chosen for the Springbok training group. Bennie is, however, not your run-of-the-mill kind of rugby player. He plays wheelchair rugby and represents Tuks. He was an avid sportsman and outdoor enthusiast before the accident and decided not to let his new reality hold him back.
Bennie has since rebuilt the Land Rover that broke his neck into an Extreme 4x4 vehicle. It took him well over three years to rebuild the orange pipe car. “After my accident I took the Land Rover and dismantled it, then built a pipe frame on it and then slowly started converting it into an extreme 4x4 vehicle. I also did the welding myself. The total value thus far is about R200 000.”
Okkie Anchor (19), his best friend and also a member of the SA wheelchair rugby team, is his navigator. Okkie broke his neck four years ago at the age of 16, playing rugby for Zwartkop High School in Centurion, Gauteng. He is also a quadriplegic, but unlike Bennie, he is not in a wheelchair. Okkie is able to walk with crutches, but he suffers from a neuromuscular disorder called ‘dropfoot.’ This condition refers to a weakening of the muscles that allows one to flex the ankle and toes, causing the individual to drag the front of the foot while walking, and to compensate for this scuffle by bending the knee to lift the foot higher than usual. Having completed his matric, he is now busy with tertiary studies. “I hope to graduate with my degree in Engineering soon.”
Together Bennie and Okkie are known as team Kruppel 4x4 - it’s their ticket to freedom. “Benny and I have come a long way, I trust him,” says Okkie.
Bennie explains that the name Kruppel 4x4 was their decision, because life doesn’t end when you become disabled. “We took a lot of flack for the name - many people saw the humour and positive side of it. Others, however, took offence and objected to the word cripple! We understand the intention behind it and it basically comes down to the facts - you are in a wheelchair, make the best of your situation. We realised the risk, but choosing the name was an instant decision that we don’t regret!”
The extreme vehicle that team Kruppel 4x4 competes in has several hand controls. “They are high off the ground and quite different to hand controls in a standard vehicle,” explains Okkie. “There are controls for petrol, brake and an emergency brake in case something goes wrong.”
Okkie handles the forward and reverse levers and the diff lock. The other switches are also his responsibility. “We talk a lot to each other and Okkie totally relies on my communication,” says Bennie.
With a modest laugh they both agree that they’ve had several close encounters before, “but we’re still alive and well.”
Thanks to sponsorships, including €1 000 (almost R13 000) from a Spanish 4x4 company and a South African company that donated the pipes and more, Bennie’s dream became reality.
"I can get wherever I want and also compete against others on a ‘normal’ level," says Bennie.
Before the accident, Bennie often took part in extreme 4x4 competitions with his dad, Ben. They are members of the Hekpoort 4x4 Club.
Team Kruppel 4x4 have taken part in five competitions during 2014.
“At the Hekpoort 4x4 rally we took third place out of 65 cars competing. It was unbelievable and everybody participating in the race, as well as spectators, was amazed!”
According to this vibrant team, it’s a privilege for them to compete against able-bodied people.
“The 4x4 community is certainly starting to notice us. The car is very capable, and so are we.”
When not chasing the adrenaline rush, Bennie works as a site manager at DRH Construction in Johannesburg, while Okkie is employed at Hybrid Electrical in Centurion.
Together Bennie and Okkie do not stand back for anything - not for life or for fun!