With punctured lung and broken ribs, death itself failed to hinder the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) national cycling para-athlete champion and she says this is only the beginning.
Palesa Manaleng, also known with her nickname “Deejay”, was involved in an unfortunate accident back in 2014 that left her with no movement from her belly down. “I was in a hospital for three days before they operated me because I wasn’t stable, and the doctors said I was [going to] die,” says Manaleng.
Now she’s permanently paralysed.
It was during a routine cycling session when her bicycle hit a pavement and then sent her flying over the palisade fence of UJ Rugby Stadium, leaving her lung punctured and her ribs broken.
But adapting after the accident was not a difficult task at all. “I only had two options: it’s either I keep going or I die,” she says. “I was alive and so, I thought I might as well live my life because there’s a difference between being alive and living your life.”
The accident was an obstacle not brave enough to stop her from pursuing a career in cycling: she still cycles using her hands instead of her legs. “Hand cycling is basically cycling but using your hands. I was cycling before my accident and the only logical thing to do was to continue cycling but with my hands.”
Recently, she’s just been crowned as the National Champion at the 2018 SA National Road and Para-Cycling Championships. Manaleng took home two gold medals after winning the Women’s H3 handcycle championships which took place in Outdshoorn, Western Cape, from 6-11 February 2018.
While her victories make much noise and are too stubborn to be ignored, her extensive skills for sports also play a big role. She has participated in sports such as soccer, hockey, swimming and weightlifting to name a few. “I’ve rode, ran 10ks, cycled and I still cycle.”
The cycling bug bit her and that is how she got into it. “It was just another sport that I wanted to try out and I was tired of team sports like hockey. When I started cycling I had a bike that I would cycle around with from here to Roodeport and Krugersdorp and I was like ‘you know what let me take it up as a sport’,” she explains.
Manaleng studied journalism at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) back in 2008. But now pursues a second qualification. She’s a first-year Public Relations (PR) student at UJ.
Even though she knew since from childhood that all she wanted was to play sports, her love for writing was equally rebellious to be ignored. “I love writing short stories for fun and I said to myself journalism is about telling people’s stories and that’s how I got to study Journalism and I fell more in love with it as I studied,” says Manaleng.
She has worked on platforms such as The Citizen newspaper as a sub-editor, Wits Justice Project for Investigative Journalism, eNCA, Global Girl Media, Witbank News and helped to develop a community newspaper in Ramalutsi.
The Public Relations degree, which smoothly goes hand-in-hand with her journalism degree, will certainly help her in terms of marketing herself as a brand.
“I can write articles about female athletes which I’m passionate about and para-athletes to promote sports so more people can read about para-athletes,” she says. “In PR, I learn to market myself as an athlete so I can draw in sponsors because I’m constantly looking for sponsors.”
Her achievements both in sports and journalism are equally significant in magnitude, but if she’s to choose between the two she would choose sports over journalism on any given day.
For this national star being a national champion is neither enough nor fulfilling.
She wants more.
“I want to go to World Cups without having to struggle for sponsorships and I want to compete with the world’s bests because you are not the best unless you’ve competed against the best,” she says with conspicuous optimism.
(Contact Thando Mgobhozi: firstname.lastname@example.org)