A life of hardships and having to overcome a debilitating disorder have not been enough to break the spirit of Bay triathlete Charl Parkin as he aims to show that living with a disability is not the end of the world.
Parkin, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – better known as motor neuron disease – is ready to show the world he is far from giving up the fight against the disorder as he competes in various championships and competitions, ultimately aiming to secure a spot in the South African Paralympic team for Tokyo 2020.
“Sport has given me hope and it has been a carrot not to die – it kept my mind off the disease,” he said.
With only a few seconds standing between him and a place on the team, Parkin has already started his road-to-2020 training programme, having competed at a number of local, national and international events.
He has achieved provincial colours for both indoor and open water swimming and has won a gold medal in his category at the ITU triathlon series in Rotterdam last year.
His next event is the River Mile in Cannonville today.
Parkin is also preparing for the triathlon national championships next month and the SA national swimming championships later this year.
An avid swimmer, Parkin said it was due to swimming that his life had taken such a drastic turn. Being in the pool gave him a chance to work the depleted muscles without exerting too much stress.
“The only disability in life is a bad attitude. To still be here is a massive miracle. Ten years of extra life – I had the opportunity to live. If it was not for ALS my life would have been one of working, it was a blessing in disguise,” Parkin said.
Born in Port Elizabeth in 1968, Parkin and his parents moved to Johannesburg while he was still very young.
He attended primary school in Johannesburg, before later attending the Agricultural High School in Kroonstad. At school level, Parkin played cricket, rugby and did swimming.
A qualified accountant, Parkin said to achieve this he had to work as a security guard by night, while attending classes during the day.
He married his wife Liesl in 1985 and two years later the couple moved back to the Bay.
He also served in the military for two years in 1987 and 1988.
Parkin was diagnosed with the debilitating disease in 2007, aged just 38.
Prior to diagnosis, Parkin said: “I started having tremors in my hands, but did not take any notice of it. Three months later it became worse.”
Parkin said it took visits to three different doctors and almost a year of waiting before he found out what was wrong.
“At first, they could not say for sure that it was MND, as I was too young [the disorder is more usually diagnosed after 50] , and also other diseases often mimic the symptoms.
Then the news came. “Well, we did not take it well. It was one big shock. We cried every night,” Parkin said.
“Being an accountant, I organised my funeral and my will to make things easier for Liesl, and closed all my accounts, from bank to cell phone.”
Now spending his days between visits to an acupuncturist, a physiotherapist and the swimming pool, Parkin said the work done by a group of individuals had played a huge role in his recovery.