Challenge Accepted By Nicholas Smit

On 20 November 1984, a drunk driver ploughed into our cars and crushed my father and grandparents. My grandparents were killed and my father died a short while later. I flew out of my chair and shattered the windscreen. I landed broken on the tarmac.

An ambulance took us to Grey’s Hospital. I was unconscious, my body flaccid. My skull was fractured and I remained in I.C.U. for three weeks. Since the accident, my left-hand side had become more spastic than the right and there was no significant motor function. A scan showed severe damage within the right cerebral hemisphere.

My mother remained by my side where she sang and talked to me all day. My improvement was gradual. These were to be the start of many operations that I have had to undergo. 

Growing up, I ignored my left hand. I battled to dress and cut my own food. I limped when I walked and fell often. I also staggered wildly whenever I had to turn rapidly. My hair eventually concealed my scars.

I received my initial education at Forest Town School, a school for children with special needs. At the end of Grade Three, the school psychologist told my mother that I had the potential to move to a regular school. This would prove to be difficult as inclusive education was not part of education policy then. Finally, after approaching four schools, I was accepted at the school my brother had attended.

My first teacher at the new school was kind and had an interest in Natural Science which was my passion. I made a good friend called Nicholas.

However, I was bullied and even pushed down some stairs. As I walked the corridors, some children laughed and I only realised afterwards that a boy was imitating my gait. Another teacher, who co-ordinated a Natural Science club, turned me away saying that I would not cope when they went on outings.

I took part in school events like cross country runs. I came last almost every time, but I learnt the most important lesson of my life: It does not matter if you are not a winner, what does matter is that you try.

At the end of my time at primary school, I was given a standing ovation and the Headmaster’s Award. I then attended a private high school. Some of the teachers were inspiring and they encouraged me to reach greater heights. I attained two distinctions and delivered the valedictorian speech.

 

I loved horses and took up horse riding. Unfortunately this was short-lived.  I was thrown off the horse and once again spent time in I.C.U. My sister also did horse riding. My mother had given birth to Aimee who has Down’s Syndrome five years after the accident. She has the kindest heart. She helps me physically and I help her mentally. We make a good team.

Music gives a soul to the universe. So I started ballroom dancing for my matric dance and soon after took up salsa. Fifteen years later I am still dancing.

I studied teaching at Wits even though my mother disapproved. She feared that I would be mocked again. Fast forward and I have taught Maths in schools and as a tutor for over 15 years now. While at the shops, I am sometime greeted by the friendly, familiar faces of students from past years. It is at times like these that I know I have made a difference.

 

In order to supplement my teaching salary, I started tutoring. Other teachers soon joined my venture. My tutoring company, Straight A Tutors is growing and I hope to have a home school facility one day soon.

Speaking of business, a friend who is also disabled and I decided to start another company. We develop products to make the lives of disabled people easier and also act as advocates for a more inclusive society. These are functional and give users greater independence and mobility. “Smergos” is our dream.  Help us make it a reality.   

And my personal life? I have a great family and many friends who have always been very supportive. I live in a small house with a small garden. I have a fiancée who has the most wonderful sense of humour. Let’s face it, you have to laugh when living with me, my rogue arm and cool ’50 Cent’ limp. We are currently planning our June wedding. My attitude is to accept my disability but not let it control me. The secret is to find something positive in everything that happens and to keep going.  We are good enough and will never give up.  Give yourself tiered goals and then you will reach them.

 

I would like to inspire others with disabilities to understand that things don’t have to be perfect to be valuable.