June 15, 2024

Max Kulati with his mother displaying his trophies

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By Ziggy Benoliel

A South African who won the wheelchair category at the bodybuilding world championship in Slovenia in June has credited the support he received from his family, particularly his wife and mother. Max Kulati (33) not only won his category, but he was also awarded a pro medal, making him the country’s and Africa’s first wheelchair bodybuilder pro.

The IBFF World Championship “is the biggest international competition of this sporting code and hosts the best of the best from all over the world” according to an SABC report.

Kulati, from Moeggesukkel informal settlement in Kariega(former Uitenhage) in Eastern Cape, took up bodybuilding afterbeing paralysed from the waist down. “I just woke up like this. That was back in 2014. After going through surgery, the doctors told me I woke up paralysed due to a shortage of spinal fluid,”he said.

“Whenever my wife (Nomathemba Kulati) saw me in a depressed state she offered me words of encouragement to not let my circumstances define my outcome in life. As society tends to reject disabled people, which is tormenting for me, I thought if I were to engage in the 2021 world cup bodybuilding in Pretoria Emerald Casino, it would not only help me improve my self-esteem but make the world realise my potential as a disabled individual,” Kulati said.

After winning second place, he qualified to participate inSlovenia. “My mother’s prayers and wife’s words of encouragement helped me make it to the last stage of the competition and come out as winner.”

His mother, Nosakhe Lungu, told ThisAbility in a WhatsApp interview that, “Whilst my son Max was still recovering frombeing newly paralysed the support I gave him was my love and prayers.”

In a TedX talk, Stella Young who has osteogenesis imperfecta, said that disabled people are disabled more by their society than their bodies.

Kulati says, “There were days where I was left to sit in the rain, on my way to work (NQF level 5 generic management learnership), because Moeggesukkel informal settlement taxi drivers refused to take me in their vehicles as a passenger. They did this because they felt it would be too troublesome to have to get off their vehicles and help a wheelchair-bound person get into their taxis. Being rejected by taxi drivers because of my disability was frustrating and it made me feel like not going to work, let alone going outside.”

In The History of Treatment Toward People With Disabilities, author Irmo Marini writes that disabled people are denied help by able bodied people because they see it as too much trouble to help, such as helping a wheelchair user up a flight of stairs in a building that does not have an elevator or escalator.

Such situations are very frustrating and lead to “further disabling disabled people”, said Yasmin Sheikh, in a 2018 TedX Talk, Disability does not mean inability. “It would have this effect on us because we would believe we are a burden to our society. Furthermore, we will abstain from going to work because of being socially ostracised,” added Sheikh who is a wheelchair user.

Mongezi Mata, Kulati’s gym buddy, told ThisAbility that seeing Kulati getting stronger and stronger “was an inspiration for all of us at gym as he showed us there are other ways of getting fit when one’s full body functioning has been impaired. Helping my friend to be physically fit and a bodybuilder was not a burden to me, instead it made me feel like I am contributing to the betterment of society.”

When asked what the government is doing to make the plight of wheelchair users easier on the way to work, Heriette Adams, a Moeggesukkel municipality official, responded: “Totally nothing. Everyone must find their own way.”

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