Sometimes life deals you a poor hand. While some people choose to fold their cards and wallow in pity about their bad luck, others stay in the game, playing the cards they’re dealt as best they can.
When Alwyn Uys regained consciousness on the side of the road after his had car rolled, he knew his life would never be the same again.
“It happened on Friday, 13 December 2014. I looked down for a second and the front wheel went off the road and hit some sand. I lost control and was ejected from the car. I broke my shoulder, ribs, femur, back and neck.”
When he tried to get up, he felt nothing except a fiery pain throughout his body. The accident had shattered Alwyn’s C7 and C8 vertebrae. He was paralysed from the chest down.
“People always say that life can change in an instant, but you only realise the truth in that statement when something like this happens to you.”
A bright future derailed
Before that fateful day, Alwyn had revelled in an active lifestyle and excelled in various sports. But that all changed after the accident.
“One day I could do everything for myself and the next day my best friend had to feed me because I couldn’t do anything.”
Alwyn spent three months in rehab, which he describes as one of the most challenging experiences of his life. However, things only got worse when he finally left.
“When I got home I felt like a stranger in my own house. It wasn’t the same anymore because I couldn’t do the things I previously did.”
So much to live for
Unable to work, Alwyn became bored and frustrated. “I didn’t know what to do with myself. That’s when the depression set in. I began to think about ending my struggle and I came close one day after I broke down and couldn’t handle it anymore.”
But he couldn’t. “I realised that if I did, it would be the end of my story and that’s what people would remember about me – that I wasn’t strong enough to deal with it; that I couldn’t do it. That’s when I resolved to at least try, and to find out what comes after the accident.”
Alwyn chose to focus on and appreciate what he still had left, not on what he’d lost. “I just took it one day at a time and stopped wasting my life away.”
Freedom in independence
He quickly learnt to drive again and within four months of the accident, he was back on the road and regained some of his previous independence.
“It’s about adapting. When bad things happen we tend to think too much and emotions cloud our approach. We overthink situations and keep living in the past, holding onto how we used to do things.
“These things happen in life, but if you can’t change your mindset or the way you think about overcoming your challenges and circumstances, then you won’t move forward and you’ll never conquer anything. You have to learn and adapt to overcome.”
Chasing big dreams
And adapting to his new circumstances as best he can has instilled in Alwyn a positive attitude and mindset that gives him the courage to pursue his dreams and ambitions – even those he held before his accident.
He always wanted to complete an Ironman triathlon – a 3.8km swim, a 180km cycle and 42.2km run – as an able-bodied athlete, but after ending up in a wheelchair his resolve to achieve that ambition burnt more fiercely than ever.
“When you go through something that shakes you to your core, you realise that life is too fragile to not go after the things you want and achieve your dreams.”
That’s why he doggedly chases after his endurance sports ambitions and why he shares his life lessons and experiences with whoever wants to watch his YouTube channel.
“I believe that seeing someone living out their passion can inspire you to do the same. It’s also very fulfilling to live out your passion and give life a go – going all-in to turn thoughts into reality and realise a dream. Even if you fail, at least you had the courage to give it a try.”
Pursuing bigger challenges
This positive outlook on life has helped Alwyn achieve seemingly impossible feats. Three years after his accident, he won gold in the time trial and road events in the H3 wheelchair category at the South African Para-Cycling Championships in Oudtshoorn, and also competed at the 2017 Para-Cycling World Cup.
A few years later, in 2019, he rolled down the red carpet at the Ironman 70.3 Durban, becoming the first South African paraplegic to successfully complete the daunting endurance challenge by swimming 1.9km in the open ocean, cycling 90km with a recumbent hand-crack bicycle and completing the 21.1km run leg in a racing wheelchair.
That experience served to deepen his resolve to chase an even bigger challenge – the full-distance event at Ironman South Africa.
Climbing metaphorical mountains
“My strength comes from that accident and my resultant brokenness. I have found power in my pain. My love for sports has kept me going. It was a long process but it comes down to what you love and finding a way around your circumstances.” Alwyn believes a similar mindset can help us conquer the mountains we all face in our lives.
“Some may seem intimidating and impossible to climb. Some of us may spend years staring at our mountains before we gain the confidence to tackle them. But the mountains that are placed before us aren’t meant to defeat us, they are meant to be conquered. They can teach us something that will help us grow, and there is always a way up – a path to the top. We just need to find the courage within ourselves to start our journey. You may feel alone in your endeavour, but once you start you’ll find others who are climbing the very same mountain. Your mountain can be conquered.”
Alwyn’s Biogen supplement stack: