When Sandile Mkhize shares his truth, it’s unforgettable. One day, while still in his early twenties, he was pursuing a modelling career at home in South Africa, rocking a six-pack and feeling invincible. The next morning, he was paralysed in a motorbike accident that broke his back in three places.
It was an unimaginable blow, but today, the 32-year-old is not only pursuing his dreams once again but advocating for all people affected by spinal cord injuries as an ambassador for the Wings for Life World Run. In fact, it was participating in 'the run for those who can’t' that helped him find his way out of a forest of uncertainty and depression.
Feeling “scattered” and “broken” after the 2013 trauma, Mkhize spent two years in hospital and endured more than 30 surgeries. Devastatingly, he had lost not only all feeling and function from the chest down, but his identity as well. It was hard for him to find a sense a purpose in life, or imagine a future.
Learn more about Sandile Mkhize's incredible journey in the video below:
Painstakingly, Mkhize learned how to get out of bed and how to use the bathroom all over again. But relearning how to interact with people was different. He shut himself away.
It was an occupational therapist who told him about the Wings for Life World Run, which unites people around the world – runners and wheelchair users alike – in a simultaneous global event that raises money for spinal cord injury research. Mkhize agreed to sign up for the 2016 race.
Soon, friends and his brother Sifiso were on board, and race day footage shows pure exhilaration as they fly down the pavement, Sifiso on foot and Sandile in his wheelchair.
You realise there’s this huge community that thinks, ‘we're trying to solve this together'
“I was in this constant state of everything being still around me and now all of a sudden I'm speeding down the road – and on the downhills I'm moving faster than the people running!” Mkhize describes. “If they could sell it in a bottle, everyone should have it. Everyone.”
After three long years, the run was the first time that Mkhize began to feel he could be part of society. Then in 2017, Mkhize’s mother also came to the event, joyfully cheering from the sidelines.
He recalls: “When I saw her experiencing that and seeing me in that light… the anxiety and the weight, everything just melted away. Because you realise there’s this huge community that thinks, ‘we're trying to solve this together and we support you’.”
Anything... that can bring humans together or give us a way to express our shared humanity will always be something special
Today, while Sandile’s life still isn’t all “sunshine and rainbows,” he continues to work hard in the gym to maintain his fitness. He dreams of going skydiving and dancing on his own two feet. And instead of avoiding public situations, he welcomes them as opportunities to increase understanding and to encourage anyone facing challenges not to give up.
“Wherever you think your possibilities stop, you're wrong,” he asserts. “Just go further.”
Of course, Mkhize will once again be participating in this year's Wings for Life World Run, taking place on May 9, as tens of thousands of people everywhere take part individually, yet remain connected through the event’s App.
He says: “Anything at that scale that can bring humans together or give us a way to express our shared humanity will always be something special. And I don't think there is anything like it.”
Register for the Wings for Life World Run here.