A paraplegic from Mbombela, Mpumalanga, his golfing dreams got wings again after benefactors – including two professional golfers – donated thousands of rand to have a special wheelchair imported for him.
Meiring de Clercq (33) didn’t think he would ever hold a golf club again after a minibus taxi ran him off his bike four years ago and he was paralyzed from the waist down.
However, the keen golfer played his first golf match in White River, Mpumalanga, in his new wheelchair on 11 August, and won the game. He and his father, Lodie de Clercq, played together in a team. He now wants to start participating in tournaments with a view to gaining a place on the international ranking for disabled golfers.
“Being able to be on the golf course again was liberating,” says De Clercq.
De Clercq’s life turned upside down in May 2019 when he was involved in a bicycle accident.
A minibus taxi pushed De Clercq off his bike into a stationary truck on the N4 highway at Mbombela. De Clercq was training for his third Ironman competition.
He suffered a serious concussion and with it broke his back and sternum – a T-shaped bone that forms the front of the chest. A few broken ribs also lodged in his lung. Since then he has not been able to use his legs again.
Benefactors open their wallets
Because golf is a big part of De Clercq’s life, his family and friends started a Back-a-Buddy fundraiser in April this year to import the wheelchair from Germany that will enable him to stand up straight again and to play golf.
“It was emotionally difficult for me to just watch my friends play golf from the sidelines. I went along to golf tournaments and would ride along in the golf cart with my stick.”
De Clercq’s wife, Imógen de Clercq, and his friends, Sarel-Louis Wolfaardt, Luan Fourie and Kobus Eloff, made it their goal to get De Clercq back on the golf course.
In a matter of about three months, enough money was collected to import the wheelchair. De Clercq got his wheelchair at the end of July.
The total cost of the wheelchair, including import costs, amounted to R725 000. During the fundraising, R245 000 was collected, not nearly enough to cover the costs.
A friend of De Clercq, MJ Daffue, who is currently participating in the PGA golf tour in America, told professional golfers Erik van Rooyen and Retief Goosen about the wheelchair. They then covered the rest of the cost.
“I didn’t think the money would be raised so quickly. I thought I would never be able to play golf again.”
Wheelchair one of a kind
The wheelchair was manufactured by the German company PowerBase Technologies. It is the only company in the world that makes such specialized wheelchairs.
“The disabled golf community worldwide is small and the demand for wheelchairs like this is not great,” says De Clercq.
The wheelchair is electronic and enables paraplegics to stand upright. The user is fastened around the knees and waist and can stand up straight to hit a golf ball. The wheelchair is specifically designed for golfers and has special wheels that can ride on the greens and a large battery so that a game can be completed.
“The wheelchair is strong enough to handle all the movements during the golf game. The batteries also last long enough that you can comfortably play 18 holes.”
However, De Clercq says he had to get used to the wheelchair.
“It’s a big change to play golf tied up in a wheelchair. I did pick up the game again quickly as my muscles remembered the technique.
“Although it wasn’t like before the accident, I’m enjoying every single second on the track.”
Big dreams and inspiration
De Clercq now can’t get enough of his favorite sport and trains up to three times a week. He intends to participate in a golf tournament in Spain in October. The tournament is hosted by PowerBase Technologies and he is the only South African invited to the tournament.
“This is the only golf tournament in the world for wheelchair players.”
De Clercq also wants to participate in tournaments offered by the South African Disabled Golf Association next year. This will then open the door for him to win a place on the world rankings for disabled golfers.
“Between being a father to our one-year-old daughter and my work as a civil and structural engineer, I use the rest of my time to train hard for the tournament.”
De Clercq wants to inspire other people in wheelchairs with his story.
“I want people to realize that their lives don’t end with a wheelchair. There is so much more to live for. You can still do sports and socialize, even if you are in a wheelchair. When I realized this, my ways of thinking and life changed radically – I once again had a purpose to work and live for.
“There was a stage where I thought I would never be able to play golf again, but thanks to my loved ones and even strangers, today I can hold a golf club again.
“This is once again proof of how good people are and how beautiful life is. Strangers from all over the world gave money, without expecting anything in return. It is truly a great blessing.”