He was indulging in his passion when it happened. A tackle took him to the ground and someone landed on his neck. He knew immediately that something was wrong. While the others got up and walked away, he was left on the ground crying out for his coach.
Yusuf Price was a promising player for Primrose Rugby Club when he was injured. The feeling from his neck downwards was impaired in such a way that it felt like he had extreme pins and needles. He could feel pressure, but couldn’t move.
“I was lucky… I hadn’t lost complete feeling. Although if you touched me with a pen or a knife, I wouldn’t know what you’re touching me with,” he said.
At 16, he was delayed in grasping the severity of his situation. He was in hospital for almost four months, causing him to miss the last term of Grade 10. Fortunately his marks were good enough to earn him a promotion to Grade 11 the next year. His mother told him to not expect special treatment or homeschooling after being discharged, for he would attend a normal school. Her warning was meant to be motivation for her son and it worked.
The experience helped grow Yusuf’s physical and emotional strength. The first time he managed to move his legs was in the hospital pool, marking the birth of his determination.
“In hospital you have nothing else to do, so you set yourself goals,” he said. “My main goal was to start walking again or at least get out of the wheelchair.”
After his success in the pool, he started using crutches. In a space of six to seven years, from high school into university, he progressed from two crutches, to one, to none. By the time Yusuf started his job in 2008 as a biokineticist at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa in Newlands, he had graduated from walking with crutches to walking unassisted.
Work proved to be an internal challenge rather than an external one. While he faced no discrimination from neither the staff nor his clients, the physical part of his job was challenging at first. Within a year he figured out a working system with the knowledge he had of his body and what he could and couldn’t do.
“There’s always another way to do something. So I never really struggled with my job because I did it maybe differently to someone else.”
He’s strong belief in his ability to do anything an able-bodied person can do has made him an adventurous person who lives life with gratitude. He considered riding tandem with a friend in the Cape Town Cycle Tour this year his biggest achievement. He also flew in an acrobatic plane in Seaview, Port Elizabeth, and is determined to find something else to do before the next Cape Town Cycle Tour.
“I think because I knew what it feels like to not talk or to be able to do a simple thing like brush your teeth, I appreciated life more. And that alone was a big inspiration to me,” he said.
He credits his family, friends and the Chris Burger Fund as his support system. The Chris Burger/Petro Jackson Players’ Fund helps “catastrophically injured” South African rugby players. Whether it be financially or supporting them with rehabilitation, they offer support in any way they can. Yusuf received bursaries to study from undergraduate to honors.
In striving to appreciate life, he hopes others will too.
“Never give up. There’s always someone worse off so appreciate what you got. Set goals – may be small goals, big goals, just set a goal that you can achieve. Take it step by step, day by day.”