subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now
Vusi Marenene on his hand-cycle which he hopes to upgrade soon. Picture: NEELS TERBLANCHE
Vusi Marenene on his hand-cycle which he hopes to upgrade soon. Picture: NEELS TERBLANCHE

Just over a decade ago Sgt Vusi Marenene was SA’s fittest policeman.

In 2013 the Oudtshoorn, Western Cape, policeman beat about 350 competitors to earn that honour. But what made his feat all the more fantastic was that this was his fourth title, having also won the gruelling competition in 2004, 2007 and 2011.

Life was looking good for Marenene, but in the blink of an eye on February 10 two years ago things were turned completely on their head.

“I was on a mountain bike training ride on a farm road just outside Oudtshoorn when a bakkie, towing two trailers, came towards me from about a corner,” Marenene, now 43, remembers.

“The trailers whiplashed and at least one of them unhooked from the tow bar, started rolling and one of them hit me.

“It snapped my bike in two and destroyed my helmet.”

It also pretty much destroyed Marenene’s physical life from that second onwards.

He was left with catastrophic injuries. “My neck was broken, five left-side and three right-side ribs were broken, both my scapulas, my left arm and then my skull was also cracked.

“It was the worst day of my life,” he says.

“It’s still so hard to talk about it, but at the end of the day I’m eternally glad that I survived, to be with my wife Liya and our three children — a daughter, 20, and two sons of eight and 16.”

His legacy lives on in Liya who incidentally is also a trainer at the SAPS Academy in Oudtshoorn.

Before his date with fate, Marenene had always been physically active to the extreme, and preferring individual sports to team sports, “because it’s frustrating when you give your best but can get let down by teammates”.

So he focused on running track and cross country, moving on to duathlons and triathlons, and representing the Border province on a few occasions.

One of his proudest moments was just missing the podium in the African duathlon championships in Cape Town in 2019 when he placed fourth in his age group for the run/swim event.

Career-wise, Marenene was initially a crime intelligence officer, but those in the know soon realised his superb physicality could be put to good use.

“So I ended up training all the new recruits in physical fitness, drilling, use of firearm and tactical combat. I did that for 16 years, it’s still part of my life, but obviously after my accident I can’t do it any more.”

One thing led to another and in 2004 he won the first of his four “fittest officer” awards. “Every province sends at least 30 of their best officers and about 350 people take part. The competition takes almost a week and it’s really the best of the best.”

That wasn’t all though and his judo background stood him in good stead when he entered a competition for SAPS’ best officer with combat skills. “That earned me a trip to China in 2012 where I spent more than eight months learning different styles of unarmed combat skills which I then passed on to the officers I trained.”

Post accident and Marenene may not be physically as strong, but mentally, if anything, he is stronger.

“Sitting in a wheelchair is the most ‘painful’ part. I can use my arms quite a bit but not really my hands... there are lots of challenges and I also can’t regulate my temperature properly.”

That does present a bit of a problem with the Klein Karoo town of Oudtshoorn renowned for its high summer temperatures.

“I started hand-cycling and a guy called Olaf Kuna from the US learnt of my situation and very kindly bought me a hand-cycle and sent it out to SA.

“I then joined him and his group [called Bidii Yetu, which means ‘our effort’ in Swahili] on a ride from Joburg to Eswatini.

He also joined a training/awareness ride from Mossel Bay to Hermanus with fellow Oudtshoorn athlete Neels Terblanche who himself is on a mission called Sea-Battical where he plans to circumnavigate Africa in a solely human-powered vessel in the near future.

Looking ahead, Marenene dreams of finding a sponsor for a racing hand-cycle. “My current bike is entry-level and not truly a racing standard bike. So in an ideal world I’d love to raise some form of funding to get me more physiotherapy which would help me get back into swimming and I could tackle triathlons again.

“I’ll never give up dreaming and the 2028 Paralympics are certainly in my sights, in some or other form or sport.”

In a country which so often seems to take one step forwards and two steps back, Marenene has moved forward from his life-changing incident.

He says he doesn’t think the investigation into the incident has reached the courts two years down the road, but he has launched a claim to the Road Accident Fund.

“It’s honestly not about anger or frustration to me. Thankfully, I’m mentally strong.

“Sometimes I take it as a thing that could happen to anyone. One thing’s for sure, I just want to keep my strength up as much as possible in the hope that some day I’ll walk again.”

Hope springs eternal in this sergeant’s soul.

“It’s my driving force. As far as that moment is concerned, I don’t have any feud with anyone. It happened. I deal with it and live with it and just take each day as it comes — it’s just one of those things.”

Gentle words from one of SA’s hard men and one can only hope that somewhere in this still-great country there are more like-minded humans who can lend a lifting hand to Miracle-Man Marenene.

subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.