Sports star was robbed of a future, but found his freedom
An accident put prodigy Victor Vermeulen in a wheelchair, but he has refused to be a victim
The freedom to experience independence and privacy are the “two biggest things” in life that quadriplegic Victor Vermeulen misses.
The sporting prodigy, who at 19 could have been a professional soccer, cricket or rugby player, has been wheelchair-bound after a tragic accident left him without the use of his limbs.
But the experience left Vermeulen, 44, with a choice, and the decision he made has taken the motivational speaker from Johannesburg around the world to spread his message.
“When I was 15 [football coach] Jomo Sono asked me to play for Cosmos. I played Craven Week final-trials rugby where [former springbok coach] Jake White was my coach and I was voted the best up-and-coming cricketer in 1992,” the former teammate of soccer player Mark Fish and cricketer Shaun Pollock told Times Select.“I made a choice to not allow that to define me. You can choose to be a victim or you can choose to be positive.”Vermeulen’s life changed in an instant when he misjudged and dived into a shallow pool and broke his neck in 1992.
Today the feeling of water on his skin and being able to lift a blanket over himself when he is cold are just two things he wishes he had never taken for granted.
But in spite of his physical limitations, Vermeulen said he chose his own path to experiencing freedom.
“Freedom for me is making a choice every single day. Because I don't have freedom in a lot of other ways, at least I still have freedom of my beliefs and of my thoughts,” he said.“There a lot of different levels of freedom [but] at least I still have my mind [and] I can still think for myself and make choices.”
The hardest thing for Vermeulen was looking into the eyes of the caregivers who have helped him since his accident.“You always have to look into other people’s eyes,” said Vermeulen, who had to be hospitalised six times last year for bladder infections.
“It’s very humbling. You have to have patience and you have to understand that the people helping you also have a life.”
Today he makes a living from looking into people’s eyes and telling them “not to sweat the small things”.
Vermeulen believes the only thing you can always control is “your attitude”. And that is the mantra that he chooses to live by.