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Believe in yourself Believe in your dreams Believe that you’re special Believe that you can...
By Cy and Wendy Edmondson
What others are saying about the book… • A quick and easy read with a most inspiring message. What I enjoyed most was the positive message that flows from every page. – Patti
Kramer – Eden College
• What a refreshing, inspiring and awesome book. It is just Schiznie!!!! I wish there were more stories as I could read it for ages. Your manner of writing is as if you are sitting and chatting to me. It is a book for all ages and leaves a lasting impression. I take my hat off to you and your family. I thoroughly enjoyed the humour and honesty in the book. I look forward to more reading more of
your books. May your lives be filled with happiness and joy! You are an inspiration! - Kate Rose –
Crawford Schools Head Office
• Through the laughter and tears, this book is not only a huge learning curb for children and adults alike, but an awesome inspiration to life in every perspective. Now I know I Can! – Sherry Lurie
Title: Author: Company:
‘I CAN…’ Cy & Wendy Edmondson Another point of view Umhlanga, South Africa www.anotherpointofview.co.za
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author, except for the brief quotations in a review. Copyright © Cy Edmondson First edition 2007
Acknowledgements • To my loving and supporting wife, Wendy, who has helped and guided me to following my dreams. She has been there through the good times and the bad. She is my rock and I will love her forever. • To my son, Josh who has been an inspiration to me. As Wendy says, ‘Our future lies in the dreams of our kids.’ Josh, you are a true testament to this. We love you for you - and always will. • • To my parents. My Dad for his humour, and my Mom for her loving support. To my in-laws, Ruth and Sharl. Sharing your wise words of support and encouragement. Through bad and good times. You will always be close to my heart.
To our editor, Lisa Cooper. Thank-you for your valuable input and minute attention to detail. It wouldn’t have been possible without your guidance and constant encouragement.
Last, but not least. To all the teachers, kids and parents out there, willing to change. Working together and conquering the negativity that surrounds us in today’s society.
Thanks to Peter Barrett for his time and dedication in designing the cover for “I Can”. Sincerest thanks to Tony and Wayne of EZprint at the Crescent - Umhlanga for the professionalism in their photographs and assistance in creating the best possible quality
‘The future lies in the dreams of our kids…’
About the Author In 1990, during a school leadership course, Cy fell ill with an unknown virus which attacked his spinal cord. After three months in a coma, he regained consciousness but had to learn to deal with the heavy burden of being disabled for the rest of his life. He had to learn how to speak again and to come to terms with the fact that he would never walk again. During a stay in hospital, Cy developed a close relationship with his nurse, Wendy Lurie, and they married in 1994.
Although they were advised that producing children would be a near miracle, if at all possible, their son, Joshua, was born in April 1995. Despite his disability, Cy continually directs his energy towards assisting individuals in steering their lives towards their personal destinies – whether they be family or relationship orientated, directing their focus on personal goals, or making profound contributions to organizations and communities. In November 2000, Cy accepted the challenge of ‘climbing’ the Sentinel Peak in the Drakensberg, defying the ‘rules’ of disability and making history in the process.
Having heard Cy Edmonson deliver his address at Hilton College in January of 2007 at Hilton College, it has been my pleasure to read his book covering his short and vibrant life. As I remarked in my report on his presentation, this is an important book for all young people to read. It covers, in a human and illustrative way, the power of dreams and the aspirations that all of us have and few have been able to achieve. The fact
that Cy could well have curled up and literally died but, most importantly DID NOT is the important message to take from his moving story. His is a remarkable account of the power of the human spirit. He has, despite crippling adversity, made the conscious decision to celebrate life and to live each day to the fullest. As you travel with him through his life's journey, he inspires and uplifts you and makes you think what you and I can and should achieve and that the only limits are the limits you impose on yourself. This is a commendable book filled with human interest and urges one to celebrate life even in the darkest night.
Anthony Durnford – Deputy Director of Academic Studies – HILTON COLLEGE
Chapter 1 From able bodied to disabled. From consultant to leader. From looking to conquering. From merely existing - to living. These are the mountains I’ve climbed, and this is my story. I started boarding school when I was eight years old, and only then because my big brother went and I was jealous! For the first three months I was miserable and wanted to go home. Everyone kept telling me that I wouldn’t be
homesick forever. They just didn’t understand. I wasn’t sick of home - I wanted to go home! Luckily this feeling soon passed, and before long I was getting up to the same mischief that most other eight-year-olds do. I made many friends, some of them life-long, and spent my weekends with them on surrounding farms. I had a busy life - chatting up the girls, playing touch rugby, socialising… I’d go for long runs in the conifer plantations and spend time fishing and playing tennis and squash down the street. As the years passed, I developed a love for sport, which helped to strengthen my already persistent determination to succeed. You’d find me at any rugby, tennis or cricket function – if I wasn’t playing, I’d be there supporting.
As a teenager I was pretty independent. School holidays consisted of visiting girlfriends, clubbing, and earning pocket money by helping my old man mix cement, cut bushes, paint various rooms of the house, etc, etc, etc you get the picture! I loved alternate music, and the more black I wore, the cooler I looked (or so I thought, anyway!). The perfect outfit was a tight black shirt and black tapered pants with black Winklepicker shoes (the pointier the better…). And a long black trench coat to top it off. Eye-liner was also part of my attire, and one dangly earring. I had a moderate build, but with all the black plus the Durban heat, I probably sweated half my body weight away! I
was cool; I walked with my head high and a swagger in my shoulders. Fortunately, my mom’s one of those very accommodating types, with only a little temper if provoked - the best anyone could have from a mom. We used to talk about everything and she never seemed to judge me, or my decisions. I remember her having a calm, peaceful way of guiding me through my various teenage phases. My dad was always different. He used to rip me off, referring to my attire as ‘coffin-kid’ – whatever! With his unique sense of humour, he taught me that nothing in life comes for free (hence all the holiday chores). He also instilled in me that laughter really and truly is the best medicine, which I was grateful for in the years to come.
I’d be home for long week-ends and holidays. Walking through the front door after first term, looking forward to a warm welcome, my dad would say ‘Who’re you? Hey look, it’s that guy who used to visit us a few years ago…’ It wasn’t really that funny then, but I have to smile at the thought now. I always made my way straight to my bedroom, which was the garage. I loved it there. It was my space. I even spray-painted all my favourite bands on the walls. It was pure bliss. I’d immediately get changed into my black attire, ready to hit the streets. ‘Cheers Mom, Dad.’ ‘Hey, where’re you going?’ my Dad would ask. ‘Dunno, I’ll see you in a week’s time.’
‘Oh, ok. Bye. Be careful.’ And that was my holiday routine: a brief encounter with the folks, then off to do my own thing. I hitchhiked everywhere - day or night, rain or sun. In those days it was most male teenager’s mode of transport. Sleeping on a park bench or at the back of some guy’s car I’d just met was pretty much a norm. I’d wake up and make my way to the local shopping centre to get freshened up and ensure that I smelt good and had clean teeth. I’d walk down the aisles trying on tester deodorants and gargling mouthwash and then swallowing it (you never know who you might see at the Mall!)…
Going back to school after the holidays always brought me back on track though, the ‘straight and narrow’ so to speak. Being involved in sport made me my own hero. Sport got you all you wanted in a co-ed school: fame, girls, and a few bruises. Everything a teenager could want! If there was mischief around, I’d usually be at the bottom of it, and had the tendency to always see the funny side of things. I was also the school ‘comedian’, which helped with my popularity stakes, but didn’t bring me too many girlfriends. It’s one of those things that I wish I’d learnt from the beginning.
Chapter 2 The school bell rings, its time for break. ‘Ok, pack up and make your way, quietly, to the playground, you lot.’ The excitement from the teacher was almost parallel with the kids. Break-time after a two period session of maths - what a relief for all of us! I sprinted down to the hostel hoping to be first in line for sarmies. Shaun and Nigel, my two best mates, had kept me a place in the line. ‘Hey, Cy,’ Sean said between mouthfuls of peanut butter and jam sarmies, ‘rugby’s cancelled. What ya gonna do this afternoon?’
‘Go for a run in the plantations. Coming?’ ‘No chance, I have to study.’ I shrugged casually. ‘Cool, I’ll go on my own then.’ That was my life. Between playing touch rugby on the field and chatting with the girls, there were no worries. Choices were simple: do I chat, or do I go and play touch? I was getting myself ready to play first-team rugby. Had to make it this year. I love my rugby! The following day, the principal called an assembly and announced the trial prefects. My name came up. ‘Yes!’ I’d made it. The potential privileges of prefect-hood flashed before me – authority, respect, lights out late, our own dorm… I couldn’t wait. A week passed and I was so excited to finally be going on the
leadership course. It was in the bush and I was feeling a little under the weather with a tummy bug, but that didn’t worry me. I’d have to be dead to miss this. The camp was beautiful. Waterfalls and bush all around, with a rustic feel. The activities were awesome, including abseiling during the day and the campfire chats at night. I remember feeling a true sense of belonging, and we developed a strong bond amongst ourselves, and with nature. Two days passed and then we were summoned to go night hiking with nothing but one torch for the leader of the group. The point was to build trust amongst the teams. The weather was cold and wet, and you couldn’t see anything in front of your face. My stomach was still
playing up and I’d started feeling a bit irritable. The last thing I felt like was slipping and sliding in wet mud in the darkness. My body felt weak and hollow. The final straw was when the leader in front of me accidentally catapulted the branch he was holding into my face. I felt the sharp, sudden sting of a slap, and small twigs of the branch scratched my cheeks. I slumped down onto my knees, unable to pull myself up. My group panicked. ‘Cy, you ok?’ I barely nodded, and stared at the droplets of rain running off my hair and mingling with the tears that stung my eyes. The leader radioed camp and asked that someone come and assist me. ‘There’s something wrong with Cy, Sir!’ I heard him say in an unsteady voice. I got back to camp and was given something warm to drink. I don’t remember falling
asleep. The next morning I felt slightly better, almost as if I had a hangover, but the ‘stomach bug’ hadn’t left yet. Two weeks later I still hadn’t got rid of my bug. I felt like I had a heavy dose of flu and the runs and stomach cramps were really making me feel weak. I finally decided to see the local GP, who gave me some tablets for my bladder and an injection for flu. The next morning I was so fragile that I couldn’t even get out of my bed. The hostel master took one look at me and summoned my buddies, Shaun and Nigel, to assist me to his car. Shaun bundled me into the passenger seat, but I couldn’t even hold my own head up so Nigel jumped into the back seat behind me and held me steady. I can’t remember what they were saying; their voices were distant muffles, like a
dream. The next thing I remember was waiting for the doctor in the girls’ hostel. I noticed that the girl I was fond of was also waiting to see the doctor. I put on a brave face (I had a reputation to protect, you know!). ‘I don’t look so good right now, hey?’ I said as casually as I could manage in my stupor. ‘Cy, you really don’t look so good,’ she answered seriously. ‘Are you sure you’re going to be ok?’ ‘Of course I will, just a bad bout of flu,’ I replied with a shrug. I somehow didn’t feel the conviction of my own words. The doctor didn’t hesitate. He advised the teacher on duty to take me to Christ the King Hospital urgently. It was one of those clinic-type hospitals which unfortunately
don’t have the necessary equipment to deal with critical situations, just the basic drips and beds. I felt as if I was slipping into deep sleep for hours at a time, only to awake and see that only ten minutes had passed. I remember, as if in a foggy tunnel, Matron Swinscoe from my hostel standing beside me, her face drawn and her eyes darting from my face to the doctor questioningly. Her mouth was moving but I heard no words. I don’t remember much from this point. When I finally opened my eyes again my mom and dad were standing in front of my bed. Oh boy, I thought – this must be pretty serious. It’s a one-and-a-half hour drive to the school. My parents later told me that the doctors had advised them that I needed to get to a better
equipped hospital as soon as possible as I was deteriorating. The problem was that if they flew or drove me anywhere, there was a chance that I wouldn’t make the trip. They decided to take the risk and I was transported to St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban by ambulance. That night my heart stopped and I was rushed from High Care to ICU. This was a ward with only five beds and a sister allocated to each one. Now it was really getting serious! From what I’ve been told, my condition was very erratic and unstable and my chance of survival was slim. After the third night in hospital my folks were called in. ‘Mr and Mrs Edmondson, as you know, your son is very unstable. I’d like to suggest to you both that you
treat every visit as your last.’ My parents sat in stunned silence. They were in shock. This is our son, they were thinking. This isn’t possible, and it’s unacceptable. Why must he die first? It’s not supposed to work that way… The following morning my parents arrived at the hospital to meet the local priest. He wasn’t there for a social visit. He was there to give the last rites. A mother and father’s worst nightmare was becoming a reality as they prepared themselves to deal with the death of their youngest child. A week passed. I was in a coma and hooked up to a life support system by this stage. My parents were living a nightmare. Tempers flared, reason fled and accusations flew. The doctors and staff weren’t doing enough – my parents needed answers! No sleep, no food, the quiet
breaking of their hearts clearly showed on their faces. As I eventually stabilized they began feeding me through a tube in my nose. I was emaciated and had bedsores the size of tennis balls covering my buttocks - but I was alive.
Chapter 3 When I finally opened my eyes again it was to see the stark whiteness of the ceiling above my bed. I smelt detergent and the sickly-sweet smell of disinfectant. I could hear a continuous ‘beep-whoosh’ sound next to me but I couldn’t turn my head sideways to see what it was. Where was everyone? I felt confused, as if I’d fallen asleep and been moved. My dad used to do that when I fell asleep in front of the TV sometimes - I’d miraculously wake up in my bed the next morning. Only this wasn’t my bed.
Moments later an unfamiliar but friendly face appeared above me. ‘Cy,’ I heard her say in a quiet, soothing voice, ‘welcome back.’ I tried to ask her where I was, I had the words in my head, but my voice had no sound, not even the rasping of air passing through my throat. When the kind face and soothing voice began to explain my surroundings to me, my heart began to pound loudly. How could I possibly have slept for three months! Where were my parents? Was I meant to play rugby today? Why couldn’t I speak? And what was wrong with my damned arms? As an overwhelming tiredness swept over me, the bright whiteness of the room hazed over, turning from grey to black. I slowly drifted from the real world back into my familiar cocoon.
Far in the distance, I heard my parents. Their voices were growing closer and closer, as if in a tunnel. They were calling my name, over and over. They were in my dream. No… wait… it wasn’t a dream. I slowly lifted my heavy eyelids and saw them standing anxiously beside my bed. They looked so tired – I could see big black rings around their eyes. I could also see from their faint, unconvincing smiles that something tragic had happened. What was it? What was wrong? TELL ME! Instead, they both gave me a kiss and simply said that they’d missed me. I tried desperately to respond, but all I could manage was to click my tongue in response. (This later became my form of communication - one click meant yes, and two clicks meant no.)
I wanted answers but the nurses did nothing more than carefully mother me and smile encouragingly. Two days passed before a doctor finally came through to see me. He sat down with a nervous smile on his face. ‘Cy, I need to speak to you about your situation.’ ‘Click,’ I replied with my tongue. ‘It’s amazing that you’re alive,’ he said gravely. ‘However, we expect that you’ll be paralyzed from your neck down, and won’t be able to see out of your left eye again. Oh, and you’ll also have slight brain damage...’ I stared into space for a while, desperately trying to comprehend what he’d just said. What kind of a sick joke was this to play on someone? I stared at him as a slight tear rolled down my face. Hate boiled deep within my
stomach. It was his fault. I turned my head slowly to look at my mom, convinced that she’d burst out laughing at the mere thought of what I’d just been told. She didn’t. Instead, rasping sobs escaped her throat, confirming the bitter truth. I remember my mind freezing for an instant. In the seconds that followed I simply didn’t believe him. Then all the things I still needed to do began to line up in quick succession: playing rugby ... socialising with my friends … dating. Girlfriends! What now?? Could I ever get one? Would anyone ever love me?? Time seemed a blur, but later that night, in the stillness of the High Care ward, I finally came to a realization.
There was a choice to be made – and I had to make it. It was difficult, but I felt within myself that the choices that I had to make that night were ones that would determine my very destiny. ‘Cy, you have a choice, pal,’ I said to myself sternly. ‘You can either sit here and feel sorry for yourself; or you can go back out into the big world with an “I CAN” attitude.’ There and then, I made an effort to stop myself from thinking negatively. I may not have been able to control my circumstances, but I could control my attitude towards them. It wasn’t easy, and it’s an ongoing process, but the key lay in believing in myself.
I left the hospital four months later and learnt to face a life that felt like a roller-coaster of obstacles. Obstacles that had to be overcome. Bathing, for instance - how simple is that? It became a major concern for me. I needed assistance to climb into the bath as well as to wash myself. I couldn’t move my body like I used to, and had the additional frustration of trying to move my hands and arms to do a simple thing like bathing. However, I’d made the choice to be strong and positive, and tried to overcome these small yet huge obstacles with all my strength, and most of all my dignity. I was still on cortisone for my eye and hadn’t fully regained the use of my arms when I decided to join a gym to get my body into shape. After three months of
pushing myself to the limits, I became fitter, more confident, and stronger, allowing me to gain the use of my arms again. Having the use of my arms also gave me the ability and confidence to do more things. Training was hard work, and took hours of painful dedication but it strengthened my resolve to continue with the rest of my life. Now I needed a challenge to go to the next level – one within me this time. I needed to examine the reason why I couldn’t do things. Why I couldn’t get a girlfriend, for example. I found that the solution was simple: there was actually no reason why I couldn’t. No real reason, anyway. My “I CAN” attitude simply had to be translated into “I CAN”
action. From that point onwards, every time I had an
obstacle in my way, I practised telling myself, ‘I CAN, I CAN…’, and I discovered a simple, yet remarkable fact.
If you can, you will.
Eight months after my original release from hospital I was back. The spasms which pulled my knees against my chest were painful and embarrassing, and they were restricting my ability to do more, so I approached my doctor and he advised me of an operation that would allow my legs to ‘flop’ more freely. ‘Let’s do it,’ I said, and the date was booked. Clouded by the excitement of having an operation that could give me the extra mobility that I needed, I was
completely unaware that there was something even more exciting and life-changing up ahead than I could ever have imagined.
Chapter 4 After the operation, I woke up and found my legs in plaster of Paris from my hips through to my ankles. I really didn’t know at that point if the operation had been successful - I was too busy looking around the hospital room in the realization that I was surrounded by nurses. Young nurses, caring and assisting with everyone’s needs! And all of a sudden, my eyes caught an angel. She had this look of a model - and she was headed my way. My breathing paused for about ten seconds, making me feel a little light-headed!
‘Hello,’ she said. Gulp! ‘Hello,’ I said with a squeaky, unfamiliar voice. ‘I’m Wendy. I see on your file that you’re Cy?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. And after all that uncomfortable, nervous feeling, I suddenly felt comfortable and at ease. I felt like I could have told her everything. WOW! She was a beautiful person. A few days went by and then ‘Nurse Wendy’ made her way over to my bed in the hospital ward and said, ‘I’m new in Durban. Do you know of anywhere I can go tonight?’ This was it! An opportunity to go out with her.
‘Yes,’ I replied immediately. ‘I happen to be from Durban you know, and I have a pass to go out tonight… if you’re interested.’ Since I wasn’t sick, and only in hospital for the operation and the physiotherapy that followed, I was issued a hospital pass which allowed me to go out. The curfew was midnight and the condition was no alcohol. ‘That’s great. What time?’ she said. ‘I’ll meet you outside the ward at eight,’ I replied casually, sure she could hear my heart pounding against my ribcage. We went to a movie – kind of awkward with my legs plastered from thigh to toe straight out in front of me, but hey, I’d got my gal! That was the beginning of our lives
together. The next day ‘Nurse Wendy’ had difficulty keeping a straight face as I went to great lengths to make her aware of me. I rang the bell for attention continuously, demanding hair washes and foot massages – anything to have her near. I had a stereo system with a plug-in microphone next to my bed that my folks had brought in for me. I used to call Wendy across the ward: “Nurse Lurie, please report to Cy’s bed!” and she did – out of pure embarrassment! I was unhappy with the ward that the hospital planned to move me to for further rehabilitation and so, despite warnings that ‘these romances never last,’ Wendy and I soon found a flat together. I was still on a lot of medication to help with the spasm for my legs so Wendy gave up her long working hours and devoted her time to
nursing me. My dad paid the rent for our bachelor flat on the Marine Parade, but our living expenses were our own. Since we never had the pleasure of rubbing as much as two 10c pieces together, our staple diet consisted of peanut butter and toast and much of our time was spent at the beach. Sun and fresh air are still free! It was some of the best days of our lives - no responsibility, no obligations, and free to spend the days as we wished. In retrospect, it was the best rehabilitation that I could have ever hoped for. If I didn’t follow, I missed out, and being one that hates to miss anything, I pushed myself to do things that I ordinarily wouldn’t have. We went dancing at local night clubs, went to parties, and
had friends over - all the things people our age were generally doing, I think. One particular day sticks out in my mind. It was a typical sunny, hot and humid day. We decided to go down to the beachfront as usual. Right down to Addington beach where it was quiet. I had to take my bucket and spade (C’mon guys, you have to take it!). I removed the flowers on the side of the bucket, because at the age of twenty, flowers on the bucket weren’t cool. We met up with Shaun, who had the brilliant idea of creating a hollow in the sand for me to sit and have the waves wash over my toes. How refreshing! I had the sun,
sea and sand, what more could I ask for? This was the
Being Durbanites, Shaun and Wendy were soon diving into the waves and seeing who could swim the fastest to the buoys. Five minutes later, I felt a slight trickle of water come in by my feet. Swoosh… Ok, a little panic, but not to worry, it’s only a little water. I mean, think about it guys. Sand, sun, sea, Wendy in her bikini, and now a little water to cool me off. This was the shn-iz-nie! Soon enough, another wave pushes up the stretch of beach. SHWOOOSH! My shorts lift up in the front, allowing the sand to filter into my underwear and submerging my legs. Now I’m sitting waist high in my
‘pool’. Ok! Now I’m panicking a little. So I put my hands in the air and shout, ‘Errmmm, guys, there’s water coming in my hole here!’ To my dismay, they simply wave back. Well, I think, don’t panic, it’s just a little sea water… it’ll drain out. Understanding a little of how the tides work, I quickly looked to my left and right and noticed that I was pretty safe, since the tide that came in the previous day was level to were I was lying. Five minutes later. SHWOOOOSH!!! This time the wave was substantially larger. My eyes grew wide as I saw that it was going to wash over me. I felt my lips vibrate with the force of the water and my eyelids were pushed back.
It even cleared my sinuses! OK! Now I was panicking. So I raise my hands up again and shout, ‘HELLO! I’m drowning here…’ They wave back again… Unfortunately, that wasn’t the scary part. As the waves leave the pool, they leave something behind them.
Blue-bottles. Yes, blue-bottles, and these guys were
stinging me everywhere. Wendy and Shaun, oblivious to my dilemma, simply thought that I was having a wonderful time moving around on the beach like Michael Jackson in his Thriller video. Later that night, while I soaked my swollen body in milk for the stings (which doesn’t work by the way, but my skin glowed!) I reflected on my experience earlier that day. I had a choice. In fact, I had many. I could have
vegetated in front of the TV because I was different, but I didn’t. I went to the beach instead, because I believed that I was entitled to be different. I decided that I was ‘differently-abled’. I also decided that I was, in fact, special. To this very day, I still believe that I am. Each of us is. Keep telling yourself that you CAN - and you will.
Chapter 5 My being disabled limits a number of things. I’d been told on numerous occasions and by various medical professionals that I couldn’t have children, which was quite upsetting. Wendy and I wanted kids, and so with the mindset of ‘we can and we will’, we managed to break the rules yet again. In April 1995 Wendy gave birth to a handsome boy named Joshua. I believe that the levels of maturity in children these days have increased, in fact so much so that my son Joshua is
eleven but I prefer to say eleventeen. The environment surrounding children today seems to have ‘imposed’ this level of maturity on younger children, often with unfortunate consequences. I’ve personally found that listening to my parents and being open with them allowed me to travel down the road of teenage-hood with support and confidence but I’ve learnt that there are others who are not that fortunate. My son, Josh, is a professional shopper. He loves to go shopping with Wendy. I, on the other hand, don’t really have a clue. One day we decided to go shopping (Josh and I) for the stuff that gets rid of the ‘KwaZulu Natal Provincial Bird’. Yes, you guessed it. The mosquito. Now the mosquitoes in Durban are hectic! If you slap a regular
mosquito, they go SPLAT. If you slap a Durban mosquito, they start doing press-ups under your hand! So off we go to the local supermarket to get the mosquito repellent. Once we’re in the shop, Josh goes over to collect a trolley while I look at the magazine rack. As soon as Josh gets a trolley, he gets this look in his eyes and starts with that evil little laugh, ‘Hehehehehehe.’ He takes aim…and starts racing at 400 km/h towards me. I’m unaware of this. All I hear is the noise of a racing trolley getting louder and louder. And BANG! Followed by hysterical laughter, ‘HA HA HA HA.’ My wheelchair receives the full impact, lifting up about ten centimetres. Being the
supportive and loving Father that I am, I say in a low voice, ‘That’s nice boy, sleep with one eye open tonight...’ I can still imagine him snoring away with his one beady eye cautiously scanning the room. Apparently there is a certain routine that is followed by more regular shoppers. They start at aisle one and move progressively up and down the aisles until they reach the tills. I didn’t know this, so I was happy to go down aisle one, then four, then skip to seven. Josh, on the other hand, has a routine that his Mom taught him. So I suddenly hear this loud, excited voice from the other side of the shop. ‘DAD!’ shouts Josh. ‘DAD!’
‘Yes, Josh?’ I reply. ‘Dad, they have a special on cabbages.’ Huh? ‘So?’ I reply. ‘Well, mom said that if there’s a special, you must always buy two.’ ‘Two?’ I say, trying not to sound confused. ‘But we don’t even like cabbage!’ ‘Yes, two. Mom says we can freeze the other one.’ ‘No, leave it, Josh. Let’s just get what we came for,’ I holler back, all the while thinking to myself, isn’t it
amazing how children imitate us?
As we’re making our way through the supermarket, lifting and inspecting things we’ve never seen in our own grocery cupboards, I see an opportunity to get Josh back
for ramming me with the trolley earlier. On my right-hand side is a lovely looking pyramid of toilet paper. Mmm, I think to myself. This is it! We’re slowly ambling past the pyramid of toilet paper when I decide to stick my elbow out just a little and casually nudge Josh into it. He throws his arms up in the air as he tumbles into the tower, accompanied by a dramatic bellow. ‘AAAH, HEEE, AAAHH.’ Of course the first thing I do is scoot in the other direction as fast as I can. ‘DAD, DAD. Why’d you push me?’ he splutters, with anger making his voice sound quivery. ‘Excuse me,’ I reply. ‘I don’t think I know you, young man.’ He wasn’t very happy with me for a while.
After five minutes of being upset, I was forgiven though either because I bought him an ice-cream, or because he loves me. I prefer the latter explanation. I could finally see it: aisle number fourteen. That’s where we find the mosquito repellent. As we’re making our way down the aisle, we notice that it’s on the top shelf. Staring up at our intended target, Josh asks the obvious. ‘How’re we going to get up there, Dad?’ ‘Mmmm,’ I say. ‘I got an idea.’ ‘What’s it?’ Josh replies. ‘I want you to climb onto my hands, and I’m going to lift you up.’ His face brightens.
‘Ok, Dad, lets do it!’ I knit my fingers together and Josh puts his left foot into them. Then I carefully lift him onto my lap. ‘Watch where you’re standing!’ I moan in a squeaky voice. Josh reaches up and grabs the mosquito repellent. In fact, he even grabs four more just to make sure we’re sorted for the next few months.
Chapter 6 As much as we loved our ‘carefree days’ we recognised that they couldn’t last forever, and in time I felt confident enough to venture into the serious business of ‘getting a job’. I worked in a plastics firm for a while but it was on night shift and when Josh began not to recognise his own father I knew it was time to move on! My desire for a challenge to grow was never far from my mind and when Josh was about three years old I decided to try my hand at a position in a large corporation. I
found that the work required my full attention, and the company was also going through some major changes which put me under a lot of pressure. No matter how I looked at it, the ill effects were rubbing off on my family – and that didn’t work for me. I decided to focus on setting myself a higher target. I figured that by doing this, everything else underneath would simply become easier. My decision made, all I now needed was to unearth the challenge - and I kept my eyes anxiously peeled for the opportunity. It was Wendy who eventually found it. Reading the newspaper a few days later, she came across a challenge that I thought could be the answer. There was a group of
mountaineers looking for someone to climb a mountain with them. ‘Hey, why not,’ I said. The mountain was my goal not only because it was literally a mountain, but I felt that the word ‘mountain’ posed similarities to the mountains of life itself. I had numerous obstacles in my way before I even set tyre and tread on that mountain. Everyone around me was telling me, ‘You CANT do that! There is just no way that you can climb that mountain.’ The corporate company I was working for told me that they wouldn’t sponsor me because what I was aiming for was impossible.
The only way I could overcome all the negativity was to keep my focus on the mountain, and to believe in myself. I kept telling myself, ‘I can climb that mountain, and I will climb that mountain.’
If you tell yourself you CAN then you WILL. If you tell yourself you can’t, then you won’t.
I had made a choice, and that is exactly what I was going to do. I was so ready that I was moving the wheelchair back and forth by the gate, waiting for it to be opened so I could zoom to the top. I hadn’t realized how high it was. I never saw it that first day. The Sentinel Peak in the Drakensberg was surrounded by dark and pendulous
clouds, obscuring the landscape in front of me, cloaked in heavy mist. I wasn’t afraid though - this would be easy! I started my ascent in my wheelchair, but soon realized that it would be impossible to manoeuvre over the slippery rocks and pathways waterlogged from the rains. Then BANG! Ten metres past the gate, I hit rock. A rock that me and my trusty wheelchair had no way of overcoming. This was a big disappointment. I’d reached my first obstacle. I got off my wheelchair and put a leather sack over my legs. It was a thick sack made from strong leather and had a zip on the side. It fitted me like a glove, and was pretty heavy. The function of the sack was to protect my legs from injuries while dragging myself up the mountain.
I proceeded to drag myself backwards. I never realized that my mind would have to be so strong! I wanted to stop, to give up! I was tired, my hands were swollen, and the skin on the back of my heels and coccyx was scraped and blistering. My arms ached and my whole body trembled with exhaustion. At 5pm that afternoon we decided to pitch a tent and spend the night on the side of the mountain. I couldn’t have been more grateful for the rest. My team was amazing, making sure I was dry and fed, and keeping my spirits high. I was lying by the fire thinking about the day’s events. Thinking about how difficult it had been to climb this monster. I thought about the unforeseen obstacles that I’d faced. Then Wendy radioed me from
her lodge. Her soothing voice sounded over the two-way radio. ‘Cy, are you there?’ she asked. ‘Yes babe, I’m here,’ I said with a hint of excitement in my voice. ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Fine, thanks, just very sore and tired...’ I felt a sense of comfort from hearing her voice. It made me feel relaxed. ‘Cy,’ said Wendy. ‘You must know that we’re very proud of you. Your family is proud of you, your friends, everyone. And if you feel that you want to come home, that’s fine. We’ll still be very proud of you.’ Hearing those words was the mental fuel I needed to replenish my sapped state of mind. Having the support
and love from the ones you care about makes a big difference in your heart, and how much you believe in your abilities. ‘Thank-you, Wends. It’s nice to hear that from you, but I need to continue climbing. I made a commitment and I intend to stick to it. Please send my love to everyone and to Josh-man.’ ‘Ok, babe. I love you,’ Wendy said with pride. ‘I love you, too.’ Sad, but excited and motivated, I put down the two-way radio and went to sleep. The next morning was glorious. The sun shone brightly in the sky and the mountain summit stood majestically before me. There she was. This monstrous mountain, trying to intimidate me with her mere size. I
didn’t see her malice, instead I saw her splendour. She was beautiful, she was the Sentinel. ‘Today, it’s me and you,’ I said with total certainty. Only then, for the first time, did I comprehend what I was actually doing - and why! I didn’t need to prove anything to anyone else. I needed to prove myself to myself.
Believe, In Yourself!
Chapter 7 We finally reached the face of the Sentinel. It was about 102 metres in height. The team sorted out the ropes and made triple sure that I was secure, preparing me for the long haul up the rock face. This was the most difficult challenge I would face, both mentally and physically. My heart pounded with anticipation.
‘This is it,’ I said to myself.
Not having top-of-the-range equipment, the only way I could pull myself up the rope was by making a knot on
another piece of thick string and making it big enough for me to be able to hold on to and haul myself upwards. It wasn’t easy. The moment I started pulling myself up, I felt the profound weight of the leather sack. It was waterlogged, and I felt as if I was pulling another body up with me. I pulled myself up inch by unbearable inch, wanting to faint, but persisting, frequently tapping my gloves on the wet rocks and sucking the water from them. It took me roughly five hours to pull myself up the rock face. I had plenty time to think while I dangled and dumped against that rock. I thought about my day at the beach. My painful stings - and chuckled to myself. I thought about being alive, and how fortunate I was. I thought about my only tear when I heard that I’d lost the
use of my legs. I had my arms, didn’t I? And strong ones, too! I looked up and saw the ledge at the Peak. It was only 2 metres away. No rush. The closer I got the top, the more determined I became.
‘I CAN…I CAN’
My fingertips felt the flat surface at the top. ‘Its not far now Cy...’ I said to myself. ‘You CAN
do this. It’s right there.’ I heaved myself up and onto the
ledge. Then I sat there for a minute or so, just absorbing the achievement.
The view was incredible. I sat in awe and saw the parking lot 4500 metres below. I took time to reflect on just how lucky and fortunate I was. I heard the wind whisper its congratulations to me. I’d achieved something with my disability… Again… I hadn’t let it beat me. A challenge of physical strength had been put to the test, but I’d learnt that my strength did not lie in my arms. It lay in my mind and in my positive thoughts.
Chapter 8 Looking down from the Sentinel Peak takes your breath away. Having made the climb by dragging myself for two days was confirmation that I believed in myself. Looking pensively into the distance I thought about the people I loved and knew, and realized the importance of simply loving them for who they are. Life is so precious. Start by loving yourself and creating the attitude within. I’ve realized that there are, and will continue to be, many obstacles in life, but I’ve also realized that the only true mountain that you will ever need to climb will be yourself.
I also know that if I’d climbed that mountain on my own, then the mountain wasn’t high enough. Having support and giving support to your friends and families is very important. Working together, as a team, will help you conquer ANY mountain. Remember though, it has to start with you. Everything starts from a simple thought. For example: Do you remember when you first had to tie your shoe-laces and how you hated the world? Moaning and groaning because it was so difficult to get it right! That started from a thought. Then you put the thought into action: you did something about it. By now, it’s become a habit - and habits don’t require much effort. It all becomes easier. Now when you tie your shoes, it’s a piece of cake.
Also remember that it’s extremely important for you to dream, and to think about where you want to be. The way to get there is then to action your dream. Believe that you are special enough to have a dream, and love yourself enough to afford yourself the opportunities. Determine your character - and your character will determine your destiny. Believing in yourself, believing in your dreams, and thinking positively will set a strong foundation that will enable you to climb any mountain.
You CAN climb that mountain! You WILL!
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