Disability, Sport and Education

You are not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are abled by the abilities you have. Palesa is a living proof that determination, working hard and standing out will lead you to your dreams.

The 33-year old Palesa Deejay Manaleng was born in Polokwane (formerly Pietersburg) in Limpopo Province. She lived with her grandmother and uncles before moving to Emalahleni in Mpumalanga at the age of six (6) to stay with her parents and siblings. Palesa is a proud graduate of the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) having studied National Diploma in Journalism (class of 2008). Currently she is employed by eNCA as a social media coordinator; furthermore, she is in her third year at the University of Johannesburg studying towards a qualification in Strategic Communication and Public Relations.

Ms. Manaleng is also a professional athlete, having represented the country at various competitions throughout the years. She is a para-cyclist to be exact. Prior to her accident she took part in various sports codes and for as long as she can remember “I probably participated when I was in my mother’s womb” she said.  Palesa played football, hockey, swimming, tennis, weightlifting, boxing, running and cycling. The when her accident occurred in 2014, at the time when she was obsessed with running 10km races and cycling. The brakes of her bicycle failed while she was cycling downhill at high speed, realizing the situation with her brakes she then tried to turn uphill with the hope that that will stop the bicycle or at least slow it down – unfortunately she did turn too fast and overturned.  She hit the pavement and flew into a palisade wall, she sustained multiple temporary and permanent bodily injuries such a dislocated her spine, broke two ribs, fractured her shoulder bones just to name a few. Palesa Manaleng is now a complete paraplegic T9/T10, this means she has good control of her trunk and abdominal muscles, while unfortunately eliminating control of the legs.

Once she realized that she could no longer be able to walk again, the most natural thing for her to do was to turn to sports, so she did venture into swimming, wheelchair boxing, sitting shot-ups, wheelchair racing and para-cycling. There was so much she do but she decided on two sporting codes; wheelchair racing (100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m and 5000m). She has represented Gauteng in various tournaments, furthermore, she has been a national champion in the 100m and 200m sprints twice. Her second sporting code is para-cycling where she has been a national champion for five (5) years in a row, moreover, internationally she has represented South Africa at three (3) times. She was hoping to attend the 2020 Summer Paralympics which were scheduled to take place in Tokyo, Japan from the 24th of August to the 05th of September 2020 but due to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), the event has since been postponed to next year.

Every athlete has their training routine; that’s a given. Palesa has hers too, juggling a full time job and her training routine is no child’s play. Like many other professional athletes her training schedule depends heavily on her work load. She is on the 13:00 to 21:00 shift at work and then afterwards she has an academic schedule to attend to as well. On average, Palesa wakes up at 5am and cycle for 2-4 hours depending on the day, immediately after her cycling she spends about an hour session at the gym or row on the ergo for an hour before heading to work. Her weekends off are spent mostly cycling and a visit to the gym. Palesa trains six (6) days straight and rests on the seventh; it is safe to say she lives, breaths and eats sports.

Sports infrastructure in South Africa is still highly underdeveloped, a country in a highly competitive and developed world. The situation is worse for people living with disabilities from lack of infrastructure support at school and universities to those who are professional athletes. Despite these challenges Palesa is still optimistic about a brighter future for those physically abled children and those living with disabilities. She encourages people to use their God-given talents as a gateway to success in life. Parents are also encouraged to enrol their children into schools which has good athletics and sports programs, this may lead to scholarships at universities. “No one is going hand you your dream, rather they will assist you in getting there should they see that you are determined, pushing hard and standing out” she said. Palesa stretched that her environment had nothing to do with sporting ambitions. Initially she wanted to play street soccer and because of her love for the game, it did not matter how many times the boys would try to discourage her she kept on fighting for her place and show up to each and every hour/day to play.

er father was against girls playing soccer or any sports for that matter, she disagreed and vowed to change that narrative. She was so good that she ended up playing in the Eskom League for the Duvha Power Station and later joined a team called Angles FC. In a competitive life accolades go hand in hand with disappointments, that’s what makes the thrill of sports worthwhile; Palesa emphasised that in every tournament she has participated in so far. A memory has been carded in her heart. No two competitions are the same. Disability should not be used as excuse to exclude individuals from living their best lives!