My thing is if you don’t tell yourself that you are the best, you never will be.

In the spirit of the Olympics and the excitement and support about and towards #Castersemenya #Teamcaster… #CasterisMokgadi poem (by our mutual activist and friend Jackie Mondi) I thought it appropriate to share the journey of another strong Olympian to be…Palesa Manaleng…My friend who calls me ‘love’ always with a smile on her face…I have a feeling there’s more of us she calls love… but it’s okay…I love it!

Bontlebame: Thank you very much Deejay for participating in Bontlebame Inspires campaign!! Or maybe I must be formal and say:  Thank you Palesa Manaleng 🙂

…I vividly remember the first time we met…the moment my eyes met yours…it was on a flight to Durban…You were seated and I was walking down the isle to my seat…our eyes met…we smiled at each other…I was fascinated by your leather gloves…I thought you were stylish…little did we know what they were for or that our destination – made possible by Zanele Muholi, Inkanyiso organisation and New York University – was the one.

I do not know if you remember that moment or not…

 I also remember our first one-on-one conversation the day after our meeting, and I said to you during that conversation that there is a special reason for our meeting…I do not know what it is but it will be revealed to me sooner or later. I must confess that I have recently discovered the reason, and the reason was to give me strength and courage. I am experiencing the most difficult time of my life yet and knowing you and your strength kept me going at the worst point…you kept me strong, hopeful and believing that I can manage and handle the situation…

Enough about our meeting…

back to Bontlebame Inspires; share with us, where were you born? Are you fine with me calling you Deejay on this platform?  

Palesa: Pietersburg, Limpopo…Yes you can call me Deejay LoL. I lived in Pietersburg, now called Polokwane,  with my grandmother and uncles until I was 6yrs old. Then my parents fetched me to live with them and my four siblings in Witbank which is in Mpumalanga. I know live by myself in Gauteng.

‘Deejay’ Palesa Manaleng

Bontlebame: from where I am siting, you are doing impressively well…growing up, what was your dream for your future:

Deejay: I wanted to go to the Olympics as a Hockey player and to be a writer, not just a writer but a Pulitzer award winning writer. I wanted to be a world renowned poetry writer and possibly publish a few novels on the side as well.

Bontlebame: What do you think you missed the most in your childhood days?

Deejay: My world revolves around sport and it has been so for as long as I can remember. It has always been very important to me and I missed having my parents watch me at sporting events. It hurt that they took no interest in my sports, in fact my father always said sports was for boys not girls. I played hockey provincially from when I was 13 years old until I was 18. I was always in the first team.

At the same time I was in the Witbank hockey ladies first and second team. I even played for the LVCC masters. In-between that I played club soccer and we took the Sanlam league and were leading in the Vodacom league. I played tennis, weight-lifted and swam. With all those sporting achievements my parents never once came to watch me, even when we had a home match as a soccer team a few streets away from my parents house, which was where our home ground was based. I would work extra hard at my sports hoping they would take note, instead they drove me insane about my academics. That heart breaking experience has taught me not to need anyone’s approval and to push myself beyond my limits until I cannot push anymore and to take a breath,  and continue pushing.

Bontlebame: Every now and then I get invited to give talks at special events on different topics, sometimes God takes over and words I did not prepare come out of my mouth. I once said the following, which many commented on at the end of my talk ‘at any age, at any stage of our lives, we must be able to look back at our our dreams, passions and experiences and the dots must connect to where we are today… if they don’t, then we are doing something wrong’ I might be wrong but I see how that statement applies in your journey right now. You are the most independent person I know who should be willing to be dependent…which reminds me of one of our conversations where I was trying to convince you to ask for help or support when necessary…I now understand  where your independence – which is unnecessary at times – comes from… I get it. Our pain is our blessing.

You are now 29 years old…What did you enjoy the most in your childhood days?

Deejay: Playing in the streets with the boys. I loved the street soccer and cricket matches. I loved climbing trees and the best was going hunting in the veld with the boys, we would catch our prey and cook it on an open fire. I loved the hot days after a great soccer match when we’d sit under the palm tree outside my house and silently suck on those 10c ice lollies. I loved those moments best, the silent happy ones.

Bontlebame: You are taking us back in time Deejay!!! Those were the days huh?! But we are grown up now and have responsibilities and bills so what work do you do or how do you spend your days:

Deejay: I’m a journalist, currently an online writer for eNCA. I have worked for the Citizen Newspaper, the Witbank news and the Wits Justice Project. I have to admit that working for the Wits Justice project gave me so much pleasure, we worked with prisoners who were incarcerated for crimes they did not commit towards getting them out of prison. I loved hearing not only their stories but the stories of their family members and how all their incarceration has affected all of them.

 I am also an athlete. I take part in five different sports; swimming, boxing, cycling, wheelchair track racing and shotput, but I compete in only three:  shotput, cycling and wheelchair track racing.

 I have represented South Africa in two Para-cycling World cups, the first was in 2015 just five months after I was discharged from hospital; I was so slow that the UCI did not bother to put down a time for me I came second in the World and a year later in 2016.

 I came back home with two gold medals one for shotput and the other for my 100m track race from the national athletics. And for the cycling nationals I received two gold medals, one for my time trial and the other for the road race. This is all in first year of competing in these three sports after my accident.

 Bontlebame: Yoohh!! Deejay!!! You are a driven achiever. I’ve always wondered where you get the drive and inspiration from? One would expect depression from a person who undergoes unexpected ‘permanent’ life changing experience like you have …but it looks like the opposite happened in your case…You cannot blame me for listing you in my top three most inspirational people I know…you can’t…even my daughter knows this…

Do you come from a rich family:

Deejay: no…we were ok. My mother made sure we had what we needed, my parents made their sacrifices so that we could all attend private schools and receive what is called the best education. What we did not need was never purchased . We never went to bed on an empty stomach; as long as there was pap and milk we were sorted.

Bontlebame: And what was your biggest fear growing up?

Deejay: That I would die before I achieved all my goals in life. When I went to sleep I’d worry that I wouldn’t wake up the next morning and that would mean no hockey or soccer practice meaning that I wouldn’t go to the Olympics, at the same time I fed-off the sadness and fear and would write poems about love, pain and loss. I would cry myself to sleep imagining the different ways that I would die, each imagination more extreme than the other. Once I had dried my tears, I would put all the emotions on paper.

Bontlebame: up to now, what has been the most difficult experience that you’ve had to personally overcome?

Deejay: My cycling accident, I was not expected to survive it and it left me completely paralyzed from the bellybutton down. It will be two years this September since the brakes of my bicycle failed and left me wheelchair bound. I forget sometimes that I can no longer walk and I instinctively try jump out of bed without using my hands like I used to before the accident. I feel like a prisoner at times, jailed in my own body, finding my freedom only when I am out taking part in sports. I am no longer afraid of dying, that fear got knocked out of me.

My disability has made people treat me differently as if I am now this delicate being who will break if you hang out with beyond her house or that I am now unable to make my own decisions and that I need some kind of protection.

Bontlebame: the one thing that baffled me when I first met you was how happy, jolly, friendly and totally funny you are. I remember on one of our lunch escapades, I was becoming upset that our table was not cleared…you called the waiter and threatened to stand up and clear the table by yourself…I laughed…of course the waiter was left dumbstruck and feeling guilty…how are you permanently in that space of mind and mood…have you overcome or are you still overcoming?

Deejay: Everyday is really different, I don’t have a middle ground, I am either having a terrible day or a beautiful day…never in between.  But 90% of my days are beautiful days. I determine how my days are going to be. When I wake up in the morning,  I like to spend a few minutes just in silence, planning my day, mentally choosing the first CD of the day and that dictates my mood for the entire day. And I mentally tell myself that whatever happens that day, I am going to have a blast. This works 90% of the time.

Then I have mornings where I wake up and everything has gone to the dogs…my arms sore, I’d be weak, vomiting, sweating, feverish, in pain, breathing would be bad. These are the days that I have contracted a bladder infection. This is due to the fact that my bladder does not function the way it used to. Since my accident I have had six bladder infections, each one worse than the last one. On these days I am miserable but once it has passed I pick myself up and get on with life. I go about my life as best as I can and enjoy it, because I have learnt to be selfish with myself. I choose what I want to deal with and how I want to deal with stuff. I had to learn to cut people out of my life for my sanity and happiness. Anyone who makes me feel like less of a person or that I am less of who I was because I am now disabled, I just cut them out of my life because I am not willing to deal with that kind of negativity from other people. I have my own daily battles to fight and I am not willing to deal with other people’s nonsense.

Bontlebame: I get you. I’ve learnt that it is okay to be selfish with the self…it is necessary otherwise our purpose, goals and life in general becomes disrupted and confusing…so I am with you on that one. What was/is your main lesson from this experience?

Deejay: That life is what you make of it. Only you can decide how things affect you in your life.

Bontlebame: simple words with such profound meaning…thank you…that resonates with me right now in my life. You know sometimes we have to have certain experiences for words like these to make sense? They make sense to me right now. Thank you.

On a different point, it looks like you are living your dream right now…you earlier mentioned that as a kid you wanted to be a journalist and participate in the Olympics…you are ALMOST doing both…what is next?

Deejay: I am working towards my dreams. I am busy laying down the foundation for my sporting dreams, which is to participate in Paralympics in hand-cycling and track racing.  I want to be at a point in my sporting career where I don’t have to beg sponsors to assist me but for them to knock at my door. I have dreams of competing in the Tour de France even though it’s a male only competition and winning it with my hands. I still dream of being a Pulitzer award winning writer and I hope to publish all the little stories I have been writing in order to achieve this goal.

Bontlebame: you know what I always say…as long as you take a step towards your dreams on the daily then you are living your true life…and you are more than taking just a step…

Truly Deejay, You continue to inspire and strengthen me…thank you so much for being you Deejay!! And opening up to me from the very first time we met. Your attitude and resilience is admirable and I feed off it. I hope that by sharing your time and most intimate parts of your life’s journey, many more people will be strengthened and encouraged. You are one person that makes one feel guilty for wanting or even thinking about giving up, or that their lives are over. Thank you. You are truly inspirational…you saved me when I was expected to crumble.

You love music…hence the nickname Deejay amongst other reasons we will not mention here…what song inspires you?

 Deejay: World’s Greatest and I believe I can fly by R.Kelly, Champion by Kanye West, I love to sing these songs out of tune during the course of my day just to remind myself that I am the greatest and that I can fly. Most importantly that nothing and no one can stop me. My thing is if you don’t tell yourself that you are the best, you never will be.

Bontlebame: You are one of the reasons I believe my special blessing from God is through my friends! God favours me in showing up through people like you who find a special place in my heart and ready me for life’s challenges and joys. THANK YOU.

Social media contacts: @deejaymanaleng (twitter) and Deejay Manaleng (Facebook)

Hope you got Inspired!

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