Wheelchair gladiators primed for SA Open

2016_GNGU_MathysRoets_JamesHouriganTSHWANE, 30 April 2016 – Popular Afrikaans musician Mathys Roets and highly-rated former Border left-hand batsman Ralph Cullinan come from very diverse backgrounds, lead vastly different lives and don’t even speak the same language.

Yet, on the eve of their debut in the 2016 Nedbank SA Disabled Golf Open, the pair discovered that they share more common ground than either imagined.

“Ralph and I were both paralysed in road accidents in 2009,” said Roets, who plays off a 28 handicap.

“At first you ask yourself ‘why me’, but soon enough you say what am I going to do with the rest of my life. There is no time to waste on negativity. We both set ourselves goals. Some we achieved with ease and others took a lot of blood sweat and tears.

“We both loved golf and here we are – seven years down the line – and about to make our debut in the national championship. It’s a huge deal for both of us. We’ve been super excited to get to this point, but we are both petrified that we’ll finish stone last.”

Cullinan, an 18 handicap, was just as excited to celebrate another milestone.

The chairs are the chariots and we are the gladiators; they will have a hard time keeping up with us,” he teased.

“Mathys and I compete in specially designed wheelchairs that allow us to stand up when we address the ball. When the chair is upright, your hips and knees are locked in place and you kind of hang against a strap across your chest.

“You use your shoulders to swing and we only use one arm. It took quite a bit of getting used to, but the chair has allowed us to reconnect with a sport we both loved. We are competing again, we can keep up with the pace of play and we can socialise out there.

“You can manoeuvre that chair into almost every spot imaginable, even into bunkers. It doesn’t matter if the ball goes forward, backwards or sideways, it’s just great to be playing again.”

Roets suffered cranial bleeding, damaged lungs, broken ribs and various spine and other fractures when he crashed his motorbike on the way to the Klein Karoo National Arts Festival in 2009.

Doctors advised him life as he knew it was over, but Roets was built of sterner stuff.

“Within 14 months, I ate by myself and brushed my own teeth,” he said. “These days I am performing again, I drive my own car, I run marathons, I’ve gone snow skiing, dune skiing and I’m back on the golf course. The accident gave me a second lease on life that is more exciting and rewarding than the first. Now, no challenge is too much; the only thing to figure out is how a disabled person can do it.”

Cullinan was paralysed from the waist down after his car struck a dead cow lying in the middle of the road between Queenstown and Cathcart.

The great sporting all-rounder was a successful businessman and highly rated rugby referee. After the accident, Cullinan sold his business and took up a sports administrator’s position at Queen’s College High School in Queenstown.

After spending a few happy years coaching cricket, among other things, Cullinan and his family relocated to the Langebaan Country Estate in the Western Cape.

“I have spent the last two years down the Cape honing my game and juggling family life,” he said. “With two kids at university and another in matric, it’s not been possible for me to compete in the Nedbank SA Disabled Golf Open before because logistically it’s quite a challenge.

“This year I said it is my turn. I have really enjoyed competing in the provincial golf days and I am super stoked to get my first tee shot off at Zwartkop. I intend to make it a great one.”

The 18th Nedbank SA Disabled Golf Championship tees off from 2-4 May and the 74-strong field will compete in various categories, including Leg- and Arm-amputees, Deaf and Visually Impaired, Les Autres and Wheelchair. The defending champion Daniel Slabbert will be hunting a fifth title in the Stroke Play Division for handicaps 18 and lower.

Roets said irrespective of where he finishes on Wednesday, he will spend the anniversary of his accident celebrating life with his brothers in arms.

“Golf is about camaraderie, good-natured teasing and post-mortems on the near-misses and the close calls and I am eternally grateful to have all these things back in my life,” Roets said. “And if Mathys and I don’t finish last, we are calling Uber,” Cullinan added.

PHOTO 2 – Double-leg amputee James Hourigan lines up Mathys Roets during the Blind Putting Challenge at the annual Media Dare for the 2016 Nedbank SA Disabled Golf Open. Roets hit his 60-foot putt to within a foot of the hole to win the challenge; credit SADGA.