“I know I am very independent because I want to be. Everyone is different in what they want to accomplish. What ever it is, do it and don’t stop till you have accomplished that goal.”
Pieter du Preez is a numbers person. He is always working with numbers. And not just in his work at a major accounting firm, nor in doing his honours in actuarial science at the University of Johannesburg.
His numbers game stretches much further. And it all has to do with his independent nature and sports background. (Picture: Ever smiling Pieter pushes his racing wheelchair.)
Pieter has been a functional C6 quad since 2003 when a motorist skipped a stop sign and hit him. He was riding on his bicycle at the time. He explains that his injury is incomplete. “What this means is that I have upper wrist movement, but no finger and tricep movement. I lick my fingers to pick things up.”
Following his accident Pieter was in hospital and the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for 49 days, and he suffered many complications. He was on a ventilator and also lost his sight for three weeks.
After ICU he went for rehabilitation at Riverfield Lodge, near the Lion Park outside Johannesburg. He chose the lodge because it was out of the city. “I like the outdoors so I though it would be good. What I did not realise was that it would not make much difference as. For most of the 12 weeks that I was there, I was inside.”
Most people go through a period of remorse after such a life changing event. Not Pieter. “They said I was in denial but they were wrong. I have always been very positive and despite what had happened I was still positive. I took the accident in my stride so to speak. I also have lots of faith and that helped to carry me through. I thanked the Lord because while my body was now different I know my soul was still the same.
“I was also very privileged in that I was financially secure and I also had so much support from my family and friends. During visiting hours my room was always filled with people.
After rehab Pieter decided to give himself a year to recover. “I was much weaker when I was in rehabilitation than I am now. I could not do much – I could not even transfer myself out of my bed.” He employed a helper and began to play wheelchair rugby to help strengthen his body. “I highly recommend this sport to quads as it is a cheap sport to get involved in and it will help you get strong quickly. From a psychological point of view it is also good to get out there, be active and meet other quads.” (Picture: Pieter relaxes after competing in his handcycle.)
Pieter has always been a big sports fan and was also a triathlete and cyclist. Before his accident he was part of the national U23 triathlon team in 2003 and chosen for the South African Students cycling and triathlon teams.
“I love sports and it is a big part of who I am. And it has played a part in how I view myself and what I can achieve.”
This played an important role in his decision that he would dress himself. “It took me 15 minutes to put on one sock. So I gave myself 15 minutes everyday before someone was allowed to help me. Eventually I was able to put my sock on in 15 minutes. Then I did it in seven minutes. Today I get dressed completely and am on my chair in 4 minutes 18 seconds. My record for getting dressed is 3 minutes 45 seconds. Initially I thought seven minutes would be impossibleâ€¦
“People don’t realise that in rehab you are weak, but you get stronger. I like to draw a parallel to demonstrate this. When you start a sport and need to get fit, it is tough in the beginning, but as you continue you get fitter and it gets easier. In the same way I have taught myself a number of things.”
And he has applied this philosophy to almost everything in his life. “For example you can teach yourself to get in and out of a car. It would take me 20 to 25 minutes to get in the car. Now it takes me 1 minute and 27 seconds and that includes starting the car. This motivates me to achieve more.”
And he has set his sights on his next goal. “Cycling was always my first love so I have begun to cycle. I am not very good, but I am working on it. My ultimate goal, for now, is to do the Iron man. Paraplegics have completed the Iron man, but not a quad. The problem is doing it in the time required. And at the moment that is impossible for me. I will have to work a lot harder if I want to achieve this goal.
“However, I believe you must always have a dream. And you break this dream down into smaller goals that are achievable. When you accomplish your goal then you can move to the next goal. Remember always small steps, not zero to hero. (Picture: Pieter and his girlfriend celebrate at the finish.)
“Always attempt the impossible and don’t stop. People say be realistic, but if I had done that then I would not be where I am today.