Durban triathlete Mhlengi Gwala is making a good recovery in a local hospital after being badly injured in an attack with a chainsaw while training this week.
Gwala, 26, was attacked by three men while out on a morning cycle ride and both his lower legs were injured in the incident.
The national age-group athlete had a successful five-hour operation to repair damage to his lower right leg and his recovery will be overseen by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sport and Recreation-backed Elite Athlete Development Programme (EADP), of which he has been a member of since 2016.
On Thursday, Team South Africa’s chief medical officer at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Dr Kevin Subban visited him in hospital, to guide his recovery and rehabilitation plans.
‘Considering the extent of the injury to his right calf, where he was cut right to the bone through nerves and blood vessels and the three main muscle groups, the surgery took around five hours to complete,’ said Subban.
Gwala has already regained feeling in his right foot, which has the medical team optimistic about his chances of recovery.
‘Holding him in good stead is his pre-conditioning. He is fit and healthy which we hope will help him,’ added Subban who said Gwala’s strong character would be an asset in his recovery.
‘From a personality perspective, he is such a brilliant guy. All the other guys that are here and part of the EADP look up to him,’ said Subban.
Gwala’s recovery and rehabilitation will be driven by the EADP team at the Prime Human Performance Institute based at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium.
‘He has everything that he will need right here, from doctors to physio’s, to bio’s as well as psychological, and we will continue to provide support from a nutrition perspective.
‘The positive is that the muscles will heal faster but the concern is the neural side,’ explained Subban. ‘The nerves will take longer to heal and sometimes they don’t heal 100 percent. That, in my opinion, is our greatest concern at this stage,’ Subban explained.
Police investigating the attack have yet to give an idea of the motive for the incident, but friends and supporters of Gwala say it won’t deter their approach to triathlon training.
Damian Bradley, the organiser of the MiWayLife Durban Ultra Triathlon that doubled as the SA Ultra Triathlon Championships which Gwala took part in on the weekend, says the Chesterville triathlete and professional lifeguard is shocked but feeling positive.
‘Sandile Shange (best friend and training partner) has been an unbelievable support to him,’ said Bradley after visiting Gwala in hospital. ‘Overall Mhlengi is very positive, and says he is tired of being in hospital already,’ said Bradley.
Bradley, the triathlon community, as well as the lifesaving community, have all rallied around Gwala’s recovery, and crowdfunding has raised over R300 000 for him already, most of which has come from small donations from the large number of people touched by the senseless attack.
‘He’s such a gentleman, and has shown such character to get through tough times in his life to be the successful triathlete that he is today, that I am sure he will bounce back from this incident,’ added Bradley.
‘Most of all he doesn’t want athletes to be put off by what has happened to him,’ said Bradley. ‘No matter what sport you’re involved in, and whether you are an elite or a recreational athlete, getting up early to train is part of your lifestyle.
‘Mhlengi doesn’t want anyone to feel intimidated by this incident, and to feel that early morning training is no longer safe. He’s adamant that it is a random, senseless attack, and shouldn’t deter anyone from the training routines they are used to,’ Bradley said.
Away from triathlon, Gwala is a keen member of the Marine Surf Lifesaving Club, another group of people that have shown great concern for the young man’s recovery.
Photo: Gameplan Media
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