25 Jun

After a car accident that left her bound to a wheelchair, Sandra Khumalo is ready to show the world what she is made of.

Sandra Khumalo’s silver lining turned into a silver medal at the Para Olympics Qualification Regatta in Belgrade, Serbia, recently. This means that our golden girl is heading off to London at the end of August for the Para Olympics, representing South Africa.

But it hasn’t been plain sailing for this dynamic mother of two young girls. At the age of 24, in 2005, Sandra was in a crippling road accident in the Kruger Park. Sandra and her husband, Mubitanna Siba, were working at Singita Lodge at the time. Their daughter, Chelsea, was four years old.

“The first two years were very challenging, mentally and physically,” she told me. “Despite the major operation on my back, everything was put back into place.” So much so, that, 11 months ago Sandra and Siba welcomed their second miracle baby, Seona Courtney, into the world.

“Seona means ‘God is gracious’, and I have no doubt that she is a gift from God,” beamed this determined young lady.

In 2008 Sandra enrolled at Virgin Active in Gateway. “I started swimming with a floating belt, and strengthening my upper body. I found as I became fitter I was getting fewer infections. By improving my blood circulation I was keeping healthy – both physically and mentally.”

Sandra was determined to be as independent as possible. It was important that she did not become a burden to her family. In fact, she has now become such an inspiration and motivator, that they battle to keep up with her.

“I used to watch paraplegics compete on television, and whilst I was inspired by them I had no idea how to become involved. Then I was approached by the Midlands Rowing Club (MRC) in 2010, who were looking for athletes. Hillary Abrahams from MRC became my coach and I joined the Durban Rowing Club. She took me to a camp in Johannesburg where I met members of RowSA. I competed successfully in several heats, and qualified as a National Arms and Shoulders Rower.”

Shortly after this, Seona was born. Sandra continued training and resumed competitive rowing in August last year. In this amazingly short period of time Sandra has regained a level of fitness to enter into the international arena. At 31 years old she has managed to qualify for the Olympics, hold down a full-time job as a reservations clerk at the Protea Hotel Umhlanga, raise two young girls and hold on to a successful marriage!

“I am a strong person,” she announced proudly. Well, that’s no understatement! Coupled with her incredible faith Sandra has come through all adversity.

“Where there is a God, nothing is impossible. God’s plan is not to harm but to prosper,” she continued. Her pastor, Selva Michael, at the Hebron House of Prayer in Tongaat, has offered enormous support and inspiration, and Syliva de Fries, general manager at Protea Hotel Umhlanga, has nothing but praise for her star employee.

“We are all so proud of Sandra,” Syliva told me. “When she came back from Belgrade we held a celebration for her.”

The next couple of months will mean hard work and many sacrifices for Sandra. A strict exercise regime and careful eating need to be observed to prepare her for the biggest event in her life.

“I am spending a lot of time on the water at the moment. In the gym I do arm cycling, boxing, swimming and time on the ergometer (rowing machine). I stick to a low-fat diet, limit my coffee intake and avoid fast foods. The most important thing is to regulate my breathing as this maintains my energy levels,” she explained.

After her accident Sandra was determined to prove herself. She has done this, and more. Good luck at the Olympics.

 Story by Lois Kuhle

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