Wheels on Wings Project Manager: Thiagen Natesan: Movie script story
Thiagen Natesan, Project Officer for PDP has so much to live for and his story is like that of a movie script. ‘I grew up in Chatsworth, Kwa-Zulu Natal and matriculated in 1992. Sport has always been my passion and my life; and I captained all sporting codes in Primary and Secondary school. Prior to 1994 there were limited opportunities available for non-whites to further their career in sports, so I decided to study Sports Science and English at the then University of Durban Westville (UDW) in order to become a Physical Education teacher.
However in 1998, left with just one course to complete my degree, my life took a drastic turn and my dreams were shattered. I was involved in a tragic car accident which left me with a 7% chance of survival and claimed the lives of two of my best friends. The driver, my best friend, had been drinking that night and being young and carefree we got into the car without thinking twice. He was speeding and lost control of the car and hit a tree. I miraculously survived after enduring 45 days in a coma on life support, six months in hospital and 18 months in rehabilitation. I sustained severe injuries during the accident which resulted in me being confined to a wheel chair and it appeared to be the end of my illustrious career in sport. md
I was determined to complete my degree while being confined to a wheel chair, and graduated in 1999. The harsh reality of my situation hit when I struggled to find a job in my field that could accommodate my disability. Through the emotional and psychological trauma, the depression and anxiety; I eventually realised I desperately needed a new beginning and a marketable skill. I came across an advert for a government scholarship in bookkeeping through Access College in Johannesburg, and decided I would give it a try. My application was successful, and in 2000 I moved up to Joburg to begin the course. Soon after starting the course, I began experiencing health challenges and my throat started to collapse. This was as a result of damage sustained from being on life support for 45 days; and I had to undergo major surgery to have it repaired. By this time, I had given up on my dreams to play sport again, even though I had become a provincial table tennis player before the accident. I finished the bookkeeping scholarship and found a job at a hearing aid company as a finance officer; where I worked for five and half years.
While working in Johannesburg, a friend told me about the Mandeville Sports Club for the physically disabled, so I decided to check it out. I was excited to find out that I qualified to play table tennis for the disabled. I used to play weekly and thoroughly enjoyed it, and quickly found my passion again. Soon after, I was selected to play for the Gauteng province. In 2007, I joined Eskom’s Power Delivery Projects (PDP) department as a project officer; and transferred to KZN in 2008 after hearing about a vacancy closer to home. I was still playing table tennis for the Gauteng province when I moved to KZN and appealed to them to allow me to continue to play for the province as I had missed the KZN selection deadline. I continued to play for Gauteng and in 2009 my dream came true when I was selected to play for South Africa at the African Games. By this time I was back on my feet again and played against able-bodied people. I have a shortened right leg due to my injuries from the accident, so I had to learn how to modify my game and maneuver around the table. When you have certain limitations, you learn how to draw on all your skills to be the best that you can possibly be. Our team made it to the finals of the 2009 African Games, where we played against Egypt. Unfortunately we lost, but the experience was phenomenal. I had the opportunity to live out my dream and walk out with the South African Flag around me.
In 2010, I was selected to represent South Africa at the World Para Games in Costa Rica. This was also another wonderful experience and I finished in fourth place. In 2011, I was all geared up to represent the country in Romania when I was involved in another accident. A fidelity vehicle had lost
control and caused a 5 car pile-up. I was the fifth car, and suffered spinal damage. Once again I was told that my sporting career was over and that I should refrain from playing sport. However, through intensive rehabilitation and determination I managed to start playing again, and won the South
African Champs in 2014.
During my spare time, myself together with other provincial table tennis players, offer voluntary coaching at the Chatsworth Youth Centre. I believe that I needed to fulfil my role in society by giving back to the youth. There’s a group of us that run coaching clinics every Friday afternoon, where we train the next generation of table tennis players. In 2012, I became a provincial coach for able-bodied players and accompanied the team to Cape Town for the South African championship games. It was a proud moment for me to watch the kid that I mentored win the tournament and was awarded South African colours for table tennis.
A group of friends and I developed a concept ‘Wheels on Wings’ which is a website portal designed to educate and empower people living with disabilities and their families. Our objective is to serve one and all in any way we can, whether it be from simply providing important information and contact numbers to, assisting with wheelchair sponsorships, employment opportunities and also the different codes of sport that they could get involved in. It also serves to promote disability awareness amongst abled bodied people.
Through all my experiences, I understand my purpose and plan in life. I am involved in many community outreach projects. Service to the community is in my blood; I have learnt this from my parents who are servants to the community and I continue to draw inspiration from them. I believe that every act of kindness makes a difference, and I am living my purpose through these acts. My faith has given me the strength to survive the storms of life, and for this I am eternally grateful. I will never be able to ‘pay my bill’ for this new lease on life, but I will continue to live out my purpose and try in every little way to affect positive change in the community.
My message to my fellow Eskom Guardians is to be thankful for everything that Almighty God has given you. We work for an amazing company that provides us with many opportunities. Start seeing the positive in every situation. Life and death exists in parallel to each other, any day could be your last day, therefore think about what you have done to leave an impact, however big or small. Ask yourself if you are the best that you can be in your current situation, are you giving enough for all that you receive. Stop, take a step back and consider how fortunate we are for all that we have. Life is wonderful!’