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09 Dec, 2016

One Tough Lady

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At the age of 23, Saskia Schultze broke her back in a car accident and lost the use of her legs. Adapting to life in a wheelchair wasn’t easy, but she was determined to live the best life she possibly could. Now 32, Saskia regularly participates in long-distance swimming and cycling events, and still has big plans to take on the Ironman someday. – BY RACHEL PIENAAR

On the 11th of August 2007, Saskia’s life was changed forever when she was flung from the car in a serious accident and landed on the road. “On the outside I only had a scratch on my arm, but my back was broken in two places, with a number of internal injuries,” she says. “After spending nine days in ICU, I was then transferred to a rehabilitation centre in Pretoria, where I spent nine weeks learning to sit, balance, and catch a ball.” Once she had mastered getting in and out of her wheelchair, dressing herself and doing other important tasks that would enable her to lead a normal life, she was discharged from the facility and sent home.

 

Road to Rehabilitation

Saskia’s journey with swimming began in January the following year. “A very good friend of mine suggested that the best exercise for me was to swim. I was concerned, because I was not sure how I would be able to swim without the use of my legs, but I gave it a try.” Once she was comfortable in the water and regularly swimming longer distances, her friend suggested she take on the Ebenezer Mile event. Having finished that race, Saskia was hooked, and the next challenge was the Midmar Mile challenge in KwaZulu-Natal.

“I am a very determined person – once I start something, I go for it! Before the accident I was involved in sports, but not on a competitive level, and after the accident I sort of just did it at first as an activity that could help me get through the situation. Little did I know that it would impact my life in such a positive way!” says Saskia. “I now take part in about three or four swimming races a year,” she says, adding that it was participating in these events that motivated her to stretch her new sporting horizons still further.

Sticking to her motto that “The only obstacles you face are in your head,” Saskia took up hand-cycling and went on to complete the Amashova cycling race. She says it remains one of the toughest races that she’s competed in, but with typical fighting spirit and determination, she carried on training and competing, and that saw her get selected to compete in hand-cycling and time trial at the SA Nationals. Her will to do more and live the best life she could had now taken her down a path of even more opportunity.

 

Forging Opportunity

Saskia became the first female paraplegic hand-cyclist to successfully complete the Tour de Kaap, a 512km cycle tour that takes place over five and a half days. “It was a tough one, I just kept trying to keep my mind strong, because when the mind is weak, the body will suffer. I just stayed positive and pushed on till the end.” Meanwhile, she was approached by the University of Johannesburg to be part of their para-rowing team and she trained with them for quite a while in an effort to qualify for the Paralympics, but eventually she was unable to represent the country at the Paralympic Games, much to her disappointment.

In addition to her training, Saskia is focused on her studies at the University of Pretoria, where she is completing her B.Ed educational degree with a specialisation in early childhood development. “I’ve always said that the only obstacles you face are the ones in your head. This has become my motto for life,” she says, adding that her outlook also motivates her to take every opportunity to help others who are going through the same thing that she did. “Life shouldn’t stop once something negative happens. You should carry on and forge one of the best paths for your life.”

Looking ahead, Saskia says she still has big plans in the sporting world, including tackling the Cape Town Cycle Tour again, and after that she would love to build up to doing triathlons, and eventually take on the Ironman. “I look forward to those next challenges. The goal I have set for myself is that once I’m there, I won’t give up. No matter how long it takes me, I will carry on to the end. And that’s also what I believe life is about, that you should never let yourself down or beat yourself up You must just carry on with life, because life is worth living!”