‘The Victor Within’

Neil Manthorp – 25/01/2001

Imagine having a ‘frog’ in your throat and not being able to clear it. Not even being able to try and clear it. Imagine having a cold and never being able to blow your nose, or even wipe it. Imagine never being able to swat away a fly when it lands on you, or scratch an itch. Ever.

Then imagine that you were one of the best, most talented sportsmen of your generation, not just in your city but in the country. And possibly, probably, the world.

Victor Vermeulen is 27 now. He played three straight years for SA Schools and still holds the record for the highest score ever made at Nuffield Week. Just ahead of Graeme Pollock. Actually, the two men had several things in common. Tall, left-handed, absurdly fearless and with an ability to destroy a bowling attack that only comes along once every second generation, if that.

A friend and contemporary of Victor’s, Adam Bacher, says he has no doubt his mate would be contesting Herschelle Gibbs’ opening slot in the national team had he not found himself in today’s predicament. Adam is too diplomatic to say so directly, but you know what he is saying is that Victor had a talent even more special than Gibbs’.

Vic was part of the very first post-isolation team to tour the UK, the Transvaal squad of early 1992. He was just 19, but a couple of months later he was selected for the ‘A’ team. His lifelong dream, to play cricket for the ‘Mean Machine’ and his country, was bang on course. Ahead of schedule, even.

Then another bang. Victor dived into a swimming pool and snapped his neck. He is a quadriplegic now, which means he has no movement below his neck and is obviously confined to a wheelchair. But it is only his body that is confined. Very, very much only his body.

I have a copy of his book, signed by him with a pen placed in his mouth by his mother and best friend, Isabella. It is Isabella, and his second ‘Mom’ Maggie, that do everything for Vic these days. They ‘cough’ him, they blow his nose and they swat away his flies. “Don’t tell me flies are stupid,” says Vic, “because in a room of 50 people it is the quadriplegic’s nose they will land on.”

I have a lot of ‘cricket’ books, and this one of the smallest. In size, that is. A modest, inexpensive paperback alongside so many fat, expensive, self-important hardbacks. But it is the only one that I have read without putting down.

Nelson Mandela is one of thousands of people who have met Vic and instinctively held out a hand in greeting. Vic always makes a joke, without causing embarrassment: “Sorry I can’t shake hands sir,” he said with a straight face. “Not because I’m a racist but because I can’t move!”

I did the same when I met Vic, but my other hand instinctively reached across and put his hand in mine when I realised what I’d done. I wanted to shake this man’s hand and my brain wouldn’t take no for an answer! Vic’s brain has never, ever taken no for answer, it seems. It’s just his body that says ‘no’ these days.

Victor’s book – “The Victor Within” – is sponsored by SAB so I hope that means he will do reasonably well from it, financially that is. The reason people should buy a copy, though, is for themselves, not for Vic. It’s the most spiritually uplifting message I can remember reading. To Victor Vermeulen, thank you. Really, thank you.

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