It was a bicycle accident that left her paralysed and wheelchair-bound, but four years after the life-changing incident, Palesa Manaleng joined 11 runners as the only hand cyclist to embark on a 2 200km race from Pretoria to Cape Town.
On September 10, 2014, Manaleng, a former Tshwane University of Technology journalism student, was left paralysed from the waist down after injuring her spine in a cycling accident.
“I hit a pavement and flew into a palisade wall,” she said. “I dislocated my spine, broke two ribs, punctured a lung, fractured a shoulder and sustained a head injury. The doctors said I may never walk again.”
But that did not stop the fierce 31-year-old as she hopped back on the track, this time on a hand cycle, to take part in the 2015 Para-cycling Road World Cup just five months after being discharged from hospital.
“When I returned home from hospital, I pushed myself up and down the street to gain strength,” she said.
“That is when someone sponsored me a hand cycle and the University of Johannesburg allowed me to use their track-chair. And that is how I got back into it. I started training and competing.”
She came second in the 2016 Para-cycling Road World Cup and is currently ranked eighth in the world in the hand-cycling category.
The eager journalist said she would have been foolish to decline an invitation to take part in the Ocal Global Journey for Change marathon to Cape Town, which kicked off in Centurion on Wednesday, to raise funds for differently abled children at special needs schools in the Northern Cape.
“I was approached by the founder, Nicolene Anley, who saw my story on Facebook. I was asked if I would be interested in doing this and I thought, who wouldn’t want to cycle from Pretoria to Cape Town? I like being adventurous and doing such things,” she said.
Manaleng and her fellow athletes are expected to arrive in Cape Town on May 20, where they will continue to take part in a 12km fun run.