Big walk, big heart

After 30 days and 1 390 km, TJ Njozela’s journey for wheelchairs came to a stirring end. THATO TINTE reports.

In an effort to raise awareness about mobility impairments, TJ Njozela embarked on an “epic walk from Johannesburg to Cape Town” to help raise funds and buy 30 wheelchairs. The young advertising professional began his #30days30wheelchairs initiative on November 1, 2015 at Soweto’s Protea Industrial Park and reached Sea Point Promenade in Cape Town on November 30, 2015. After a short, well-deserved rest, he and his team drove back to Johannesburg.

The cheque-handover function took place on December 14 at the General Motors (GM) Fury dealership in Woodmead, attended by sponsors Chevrolet, QuadPara Association of South Africa (QASA) and the Rolling Inspiration team. A cheque for R65 000 was handed over to an excited Pauline Mofokeng, a member of QASA.

“Wheelchairs are not a luxury but a necessity,” said Pauline. “With these funds, QASA will be able to conduct thorough assessments to identify those in dire need and to buy new wheelchairs, as well as to repair broken or non-functional wheelchairs.”

At the handover, TJ’s elation was clear, as he saw his dream realised.

“I am very happy at this point,” TJ told RI. “On our return to Johannesburg, there was only R27 000 in the bank. I had hoped that many more people would donate along the way. I lobbied strongly on Facebook and asked people to donate and they did – and we now have R65 000!”

Tim Hendon, Brand Manager at Chevrolet, also expressed his delight: “Chevrolet globally and in South Africa is proud to support Rolling Inspiration and QASA through the donation of wheelchairs to those in need. As a brand that believes in doing its part and giving back to the community, we are very proud of TJ for walking such a long distance, in considerable pain, but showing great energy, effort and tenacity. Ten out of ten to TJ for his courageous performance and for never quitting,” he said.

All smiles at the cheque handover (from left): TJ; Tim Hendon, Chevrolet brand manager; Lance Selley, Fury Woodmead dealer principal; and Pauline Mofokeng of QASA.

At the handover function, TJ and Ndumiso Caba – the photographer accompanying TJ on his walk – shared some of their adventures: from an encounter with a black cobra in the Karoo to living off slap chips and bread. Ndumiso also recounted how he and Khotso Motlhaping (the support-vehicle driver) acted as TJ’s support structure, whistling, chanting, sometimes joining him on foot and constantly giving words of encouragement.

Accommodation was not booked beforehand, so the team usually didn’t know where they would be sleeping next. They credit the generosity of the guesthouse and bed-and-breakfast owners who offered them free accommodation along their route. “We met pleasant people on our journey – lovely Afrikaner farmers – and I wish we would have interacted with even more people!” says Ndumiso.

TJ says although the journey was largely enjoyable, there were times when it became so mentally, emotionally and physically challenging that he had thoughts of stopping, but – knowing that people were relying on him – he continued.

“I was basically walking a marathon every day, with blisters, muscle pulls and not knowing where I was going to sleep. I remember once we had only R100 left and we didn’t know what we were going to eat next. We walked through extreme heat and, the next moment, extreme cold – it was tough,” he says.

He notes that the 200 km stretch in the Karoo was the scariest and hardest of the entire trip, as it was extremely hot, there was hardly anyone around and there was no cellphone signal.

The longest single stretch was a 15-hour walk from Warrenton to Kimberley in the Northern Cape – a distance of 80 km – which saw the team setting off at 4.30am and reaching their destination only at 8pm.

The team drank at least 12 litres of water a day. Having to contend with a scorching 38°C on day nine of the walk, TJ informed his Twitter followers that, if they saw a “melted heap topped by a Cell C hat on the side of the N12”, they should know that it was him!

Since his return, he says the biggest adjustment has been getting back to “normal” life. “I sleep in 15-minute pockets and when I wake up, I think, ‘I have to go walk’ only to realise that I am done. Another 15 minutes later, I wake up thinking, ‘But why does this guesthouse look like my house?’ and then realise I am home,” he says.

“I am also adjusting to my old lifestyle. I almost cried when I got home and realised how much food was in the pantry. Having lived on so little food on the road, it moved me.”

At the handover function, Ndumiso, who walked a total of 500 km alongside TJ, expressed his gratitude for having been a part of the campaign. “I now look at TJ as a mentor who did it – it is one thing to talk about it and another to put it into practice. Because of what I have seen him do, I am now more driven to fulfil my own social-responsibility goals. I definitely want to continue and do more,” he enthused.

TJ with the Chevrolet Trailblazer, which was the support vehicle during his walk.

TJ has plans to do the walk again in 2016, saying that the next version will be bigger and better. “Just because this walk is over doesn’t change the fact that there are still people living with disabilities and needing help. It’s not just the need for wheelchairs, but also the need for universal accessibility. We have learnt a lot from this first walk. We want to do things differently by extending the duration of the walk, engaging with more people in the communities along our route and connecting with many more organisations that drive such initiatives. This way, we’ll get more donations and a bigger platform to highlight the plight of people with mobility impairments.”

We at RI commend this bold young man for his epic journey. It’s a source of inspiration that is set to have a positive and long-lasting effect on many lives.

TJ had hoped to raise R90 000, which would be enough for 30 standard wheelchairs. He believes that the target will be reached as people continue to pledge donations. To make a donation to TJ’s #30days30wheelchairs campaign, contact him on 071 686 6265 or use the following banking details:

Bank: Nedbank
Account Holder: Qasa
Account Number: 1339473267
Swift Code (for international donations ONLY): NEDSZAJJ
Branch: Pinetown
Branch Code: 133926
Reference: 30W Name and Mobile

To view pictures taken during the walk and a day-to-day account by TJ, follow him on Twitter @tj_njozela

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