Two things that make Coetzee Wium happy and motivated are spending time with family and setting compelling goals. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in 2018 with his wife Danielle gave him both. The desire to take on this challenge, and the joy of sharing it with his wife “was amazing.” What Coetzee discovered in getting ready for the trip was a fantastic new family activity and his first reliable and durable pair of forearms crutches (SideStix). He also discovered a whole new depth of courage.
As a successful South African Paralympic powerlifter, setting high goals was not unfamiliar to Coetzee. At 21, he lost his leg at the hip in a boating accident. In rehab, after witnessing the struggle of another person facing a more significant life-changing disability, he learned a life lesson. “There is no excuse [especially after losing a limb] for not going on to live your life”. From then on, deeply appreciative of what he still had, Coetzee began to challenge himself. Over time, he once again became an elite athlete.
He knew from his training as a Paralympian, “It is important to look at all the elements and do a proper preparation program [to reach a goal]”. Initially, Coetzee thought he needed to invent a durable pair of crutches to take the demands of a high-altitude climb, because in day-to-day life he went through at least 2 to 3 pairs of crutches a year. To his surprise and relief, he found SideStix online. Coetzee’s next challenge would be to learn to trek long distances. “I had not hiked much and I learned to hike with my wife and our four children.” They all discovered a new, fun, family activity that they continue to share.
They learned some valuable lessons on the climb:
- “You set a goal and will yourself towards it.”
- “Along the way, you find challenges that you didn’t prepare for, but still, need to work around and find ways to get to the top.”
- “Courage comes from inside.”
It was a sweet victory for Coetzee and Danielle to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro, but it was tough.
Coetzee believes he will always discover more about who he is and can be, by taking on challenges. In climbing Kilimanjaro, Coetzee, a full-time crutch walker, not only achieved an amazing goal, but also discovered a new passion. He continues to hike with his family, knowing that his SideStix won’t let him down.
As a full-time crutch walker, who also loves to push limits, I know firsthand how proper equipment is essential for both everyday activities and to confidently take on challenges!
What is your definition of ‘defy convention’?
I think in South Africa specifically, when it comes to people with disabilities, it’s not very open. People sometimes think that those of us with disabilities are at a real disadvantage. For instance, going up Kilimanjaro is not something that people would expect someone with a disability to do. It is something out of the ordinary, and out of the norm. If I do something that people without disabilities do, that’s when I get a lot of compliments because people don’t expect you to do these things. I don’t do these things to impress other people; it’s just milestones, and things that I do for myself to achieve something.
I never use my prosthetic leg. I think I last used it eight years ago. It’s just so much easier for me to walk around with crutches. I actually feel more disabled with my leg on than without. What I’ve been trying to do over these years, and the message I want to send out to other people, is that disabilities don’t have to be an excuse not to do what you really want to do. Go for your dreams. It might take a little bit of preparation, in a different way compared to other people, but you will find a way.
How did you come to own your first pair of SideStix?
The interesting thing about that is I had the same idea about four years ago. I went to the 2004 Paralympics, and competed for about 10 years internationally for South Africa. They had this facility where they were showing off amazing products for people with disabilities, but there was not one crutch. I specifically think there’s quite a big market for crutches, because not everyone can afford to buy a prosthesis. They’re just too expensive.
I came back and said “you know, one thing I really want to create is a proper carbon fibre crutch that you can personalize”. A friend of mine told me not to reinvent the wheel, and to look on the Internet, so I started searching. I found SideStix, and all the options, and thought to myself “I’ll try the best of the best and try to improve on them”. So I bought my first pair of SideStix crutches from you guys, and I realized that you can’t improve this product. You guys just did an amazing job! I can’t find one pair of crutches in South Africa that even closely compares to SideStix.
Unfortunately, that’s where my dream of creating a better crutch stopped! (laughs)
How were your SideStix on your trip up Kilimanjaro?
They were amazing. I must say, the way they’ve changed my life is amazing. I used to build my own crutches, because I do a lot of stuff outside. I sometimes ended up with crutches on a mountain and they’d break or something and just drop to the ground, and then I’d be stuck. I grew frustrated to a point where I said I wanted to start designing my own, and then eventually I got SideStix. They’ve completely changed everything. They’re so durable. I can go wherever I want. My crutches are three years old, and they’re still perfect. I mean, I went up and down that mountain, and I use them on a daily basis. They don’t look the same as the day they arrived here (laughs), but they last, and are strong and tough. They just take you so much further, and you can put all your trust in them. The only spare parts I took up Kilimanjaro were the rubber pieces for the bottom, because I knew the rest could take a beating. As long as I didn’t do anything stupid, I wouldn’t be able to break them.
Kilimanjaro was one of the best experiences we had. It was just me and my wife, and it was amazing. And for us, as a couple, it was quite special to see each other going through our own ways of getting to the top, in terms of preparation and mentality and pushing yourself. It’s interesting to see another person’s way of doing things. You always assume that everyone thinks the same way as you, but that’s not the case.
We decided that the next trip we want to do is Everest, at least to Base Camp!
What is your favourite thing about your SideStix?
Aside from the durability and dependability, one of the nicest things for me is that it’s designed and created by someone that’s in the same situation as the rest of us out here. You often get people with these great ideas, but they don’t know our life, if you know what I mean. I think that’s why you’ve managed to create such a perfect product because you know what’s working; you can experience it everyday, use it everyday, and you’ve done it for so long. For me, it’s the innovation that goes into it because it’s been built by someone that lives with them everyday.
Wherever I go, people will stop me and ask to see my crutches, because they look so nice, and it’s a proper product. And it’s not only people with disabilities. I’m glad to share the information: that they’re imported from Canada and have made a big change in my life.
What advice do you have for other crutch users?
One of my main issues for so long, and one of the main things about being disabled, is losing focus on trying to stay fit and as light as possible. It’s just so much easier. Sometimes people gain weight and find it difficult to manoeuvre and move around, and eventually it’s just a downhill spiral from there. The fitter you are, the better. Keep training – find something to do. If you’re not good at any sport, it’s not the end of the world. You can still go for walks in the morning and stay fit. You have to stay positive as well. I think your personality changes a lot when you feel capable of doing things.
Do you have any tips for staying positive and motivated?
When I was in the hospital, my doctor woke me up one morning and told me to follow him in my wheelchair down the hallway to a different part of the hospital. There was a room full of kids, maybe between four and twelve years old. There were about nine of them in the room, and they all had neck and back injuries, and were disabled from the neck down. He set me up in the corner, and didn’t say a word. I can still remember: one of the girls was lying in a bed and she called a nurse and said, “Can you please come help me comb my hair? My parents are on their way and I don’t want to look like this”. That morning, I realized that losing a leg is basically nothing. You can’t complain about anything – it’s not an excuse; it’s more of an interruption in your day-to-day as a being. You may have lost a limb, but there’s no reason not to go and live your life.
As for staying motivated, one of the reasons we decided to do Kilimanjaro was to give me something to train for again. The main thing for me is to set goals, and to keep setting goals. You can set long-term goals yearly and work towards them. Find a way to get there. I think it’s a good thing to struggle sometimes. It builds your character, and then it helps you get along in life.
If you’re having a bad day, share it. Share it with your best friend or your partner, and talk about it. They’ll listen. I think the support helps keep me motivated, because I don’t want to let my family or myself down. But if you’re going through a hard time, it’s a good thing to just slow down and talk to your partner.
How do you summon the courage to rise to any challenge?
Courage is something that comes from inside. I think different people have different levels and explanations of where they think their courage comes from. For me, it all comes back to Kilimanjaro. I got to a point where I needed to set a goal. I had to get there – I had to get there to not disappoint myself. I think that’s when I dug deeper, and realized that that’s where the courage was born for me. I didn’t want to fail myself, and I think that’s the most important thing. You set a goal, and work towards it, and push through, and that’s when all the courage builds up inside to help you get to your goal.
We planned the Kilimanjaro trip about seven months before we actually did it. I’d never done anything like it before. I didn’t hike a lot, and it was an amazing world that opened up to me all of a sudden. We were doing all of these hikes and walks in preparation, and the main thing for me was to be able to find the courage to prepare myself for everything. I said to myself “It’s going to be something out of the ordinary. It’s going to be terrain that disabled people might find more difficult”. If you set a difficult goal, one of the main things is to prepare yourself. Along the way, you will find difficulties and challenges that you couldn’t prepare for, and that’s where the courage kicks in to aid your ability to adapt to something new. You’re still able to fight through it and find ways to get to the top.