From a situation where she thought she would never play sport again, University of Johannesburg student Palesa Manaleng is riding the crest of a wave as the South African handcycling champion.
The 31-year-old suffered multiple and severe injuries in a cycling accident four years ago, which left her paralysed from the waist down.
But this month she underlined her determination and skill by becoming the winner of the H3 category when the SA road championships were held in Pretoria this month.
Manaleng, who is also a wheelchair track athlete, grew up in Polokwane before moving to Johannesburg, where she stayed in Ackerville. She has since moved to Westdene.
She described how she went through a “roller-coaster of emotions” when her accident happened, aged 27.
After her bicycle brakes failed going downhill, she crashed into the palisade fence around the UJ rugby stadium and dislocated her spine, broke two ribs, punctured a lung, fractured a shoulder and also sustained head injuries.
“I was angry that it happened to me and I was sad that I may never play sport again,” she said.
“I had never seen a differently abled person, besides Oscar Pistorius, compete in sports.
“And Oscar did not use a wheelchair, so I was sure that my sporting days were over.”
But while doing rehabilitation at a rehab centre she saw videos of wheelchair users who took part in sport and realised it was still possible for her to compete.
“Once I was discharged from hospital I e-mailed possible sports clubs looking for a team to join,” recalled Manaleng.
Eventually she mastered the art of paracycling and said the experience of doing sport again had been a revelation.
“It has given me a freedom that I thought I had lost when I lost my ability to walk. It is like learning to fly.”
Manaleng does her cycling at Muldersdrift under coach Boetie Lourens and trains at the UJ gym with trainer Dennis Dlomo.
“My training is designed on a monthly basis depending on my work schedule. However, I train six times a week without fail. Some days I train once a day, others twice.”