”When I’m asked who my hero is, I respond with pride that I’m my own hero! I have been dealt a hand of cards that not many people would know what to do and I came out on top. I’m still smiling at the end of the day.”
Nearly three years ago Cedric Mkhize was involved in a car accident that changed his life forever. His opening words at a fund-raising event at his Alma Mater, Maritzburg College, sums up this change: “Hi, my name is Cedric Mkhize, I used to be a Sharks rugby player, and I’m now a paraplegic, but still a regular nice guy.”
Cedric was a rising Sharks player, who played at Super 14, Currie Cup, Vodacom Cup and Sevens level as well as for the KwaZulu-Natal Under-18s, Under-19s and Under-21s and South Africa’s Under-21s.
On loan to Griffons, he and five team mates were travelling back from a practice session and were 40kms outside of Bloemfontein when the car’s tyre burst. Two players, Nardus Wessels and Ashley Maphisa were killed while Andries Kruger, Kurt-Lee van Vuuren, Zandile India and Cedric were injured.
At first it was not sure if Cedric was paralysed or not, even though he had sustained severe back and neck injuries, injuring his L11 and L12 vertebrae and spinal cord. He was admitted to Rose Park hospital in Bloemfontein.
“The first few days following the accident I had no idea what happened. I did not understand why my parents and girlfriend were there. I had left them at home.”
Cedric says it was only on the Sunday after his parents left - the accident had occurred on the Tuesday – that he started to understand. “I kinda knew what was going on, but it was not really registering. I had not spoken to a doctor up to then either.”
After two weeks in the hospital in Bloemfontein, Cedric was moved to Umhlanga Hospital in Durban. He stayed here for five weeks.
No-one had the heart to explain.
“By this time I knew what had happened but still no-one had told me. During this time I lived with the hope that I might still walk again. I had that in my mind and it kept me going.”
He depended on visits from his family and friends.
“My parents came to see me every single day. Their support, and the support from my girlfriend and friends, was unbelievable.”
At the end of the five weeks he transferred to Entabeni Hospital to the rehab centre there.
“I was in rehab for ten weeks where I became stronger physically and also learnt to do things on my own so that I could be independent. It was a time of shock as I realised the situation and also one of frustration. It was a matter of getting used to my new life.”
Again he speaks of the incredible support from his parents, girlfriend and friends that he received during this time. “They were just always there. My friends as well. The Sharks guys were also great. They played a big role, together with the Legends guys.”
The Rugby Legends is a group of ex-Springbok and Provincial rugby players who have formed a charitable trust. The initial purpose of the trust is to raise funds for the development of rugby at grass roots and Club rugby levels thus providing a vehicle for the ex-players to put something back into the game of rugby.
The Sharks assisted Cedric in finding employment at the Sun International casino in Durban, as their training coordinator. He has been there ever since. “The Sharks began a trust fund and raised money for me. The South African Rugby Legends Association also held a fund raiser and helped me buy a fitted car. Ari Seirlis, the National Director of the QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA), helped me to learn to drive again and organised driving lessons and that I was able to do my license again.”
Cedric is the first to admit that this taught him a valuable lesson.
“I received so much support - and it taught me about myself. Before the accident I was probably more concerned about me and thought that the world revolved around me and as a result I often pushed away the people who cared about me. Today I realise that there are people who care and want to be there for you.”
As well as realising the importance of others in his life it is his belief in himself that has kept him going, keeping him focussed and maintaining an upbeat and positive manner.
“I have always lived my life trying to prove to myself that I can do more than I have already done and do it my way. I always wanted to start my own legacy.”
He also never gives up. Something he learnt at primary school from Heni Lombard, who was his primary school rugby coach and who he today calls his mentor.
“He taught me not to give up. First, by getting me to play rugby. I was a kid from the township and watched rugby on TV and it looked rough - so I was fearful. He told me I had talent and got me started. When he saw I was battling he called me in and sat me down and spoke to me and told me to never give up. After the accident he would phone me and say: ‘Remember what I told you - Never Give Up.’”
It is not surprising then that Cedric began to play wheelchair basketball and has been very successful. He plays for the Kwazulu-Natal team, the Visa Wings, and has been chosen for the South African Under-25 side and for the South African senior side.
“I believe that there is a reason why certain things happen - regardless of whether they are good or bad - but I tend to think that things happen for a good reason. For me it is God’s way of pulling you in the right direction. I also believe that God will never give you something you will not overcome, as he knows your strength and what you are capable of.”
Cedric’s motto is simple but effective. “Looking on the bright side of life will not blind you; it will help you. It might seem like the end of the world, but you have not stopped living and nothing can stop you from doing what you want.”
At the moment Cedric and his girlfriend are in the process of arranging their wedding.
“Once we are married I would like to start a family and live life, as it was meant to be lived.”