Still making a difference
Posted on 22 August 2012
Anton Engelbrecht. (Photo: Destiny)
Anton Engelbrecht had always wanted to become a medical doctor, and enrolled for a degree in medicine at the University of Pretoria in 1985. During his fourth year, he broke his neck while playing in a rugby match for Maroela, and was diagnosed with incomplete quadriplegia. It would be fair to assume that this would be the end of his dreams, plans and even his life. In fact, his life only started after this event, he says.
He persevered and completed his BMedSci in the Faculty of Health Sciences and later obtained a BScHons (Biosystems), both at Tuks. Being a very optimistic person, helped as did a very good support network. His parents are a pivotal part of his support system, and they provided the platform from which he could rebuild his life after the accident. He also has a group of special friends who form the core of his emotional support structure.
While he was completing his studies, he started working at the Department of Radiotherapy at UP as a part-time research officer. He moved to the Professional Provident Society (PPS) in 1993, doing medical underwriting and claims management. In 1995, he joined Alexander Forbes on the medical and health side of the business. In the meantime, he also completed an MBA at UP. He is currently responsible for new business development and is a Strategic Health Consultant at Alexander Forbes Health.
A career like this is already an achievement for anybody, let alone someone who is challenged on a physical level. He has to take this challenge into account to achieve his personal goals. Anton knew what he had to do: “I had to ‘reset’ my mind and work creatively around my physical challenges first. Once I had managed to do that, I had to facilitate the perceptions of the people I engage with to see me as a contributing individual and not as ‘the guy in the wheelchair’.” Another challenge was that his contribution should always be positive, constructive, innovative and ‘larger’ than what is expected of a person with a disability. He is aware of his weaknesses and teams up with people who can complement those. Regardless of one’s physical state, it is a universal truth that every person has weaknesses and that a team achieves more than its members individually.
Anton is not an ‘early starter’, as the most difficult part of the day is getting ready for work. He has a helper to assist him with this every day. However, he drives his own car and is independent in getting in and out of it. He travels a lot and works at Alexander Forbes’s Sandton and Brooklyn offices. Once a month, he works in Stellenbosch and Cape Town. Because he travels so much, he has to do careful planning and arrange extra help for these times. He also attends meetings and does his consulting work during the day, and works on reports and proposals for business development at night.
‘Normal’ life gets most of us down at some time or another – how does Anton stay positive and motivated? He believes that perseverance and a strong belief in the good of people and life will take one to a higher level of being. His family, friends and colleagues form a strong support network, which he sees as essential. He still has ambitions, although he has to work creatively to achieve them.
Anton’s aim is to make a difference wherever he goes and in the way he does his work. He not only has the knowledge and experience, but he lives the reality of the advice he gives to his clients. In this way, he is fulfilling his ambitions and achieving success as a person with a disability. One of his extraordinary ambitions was to participate in the New York Marathon in 2010. He completed the 42 km on a hand cycle with the assistance of two volunteer runners.
He is motivated by the fact that he has a reason to get out of bed every morning: people need and value his involvement and he makes a positive contribution. Anton says the fact that he is challenged, but still makes a difference, is a gift from God. “God has provided me with the strength and courage to be an inspiration in people’s lives – sometimes without me knowing it. I take comfort in Him that He will protect and guide me to be a light in a sometimes dark world.”
Anton is a proud Tukkie. The thing about UP that makes him proudest is that it is a world-class university. To be an alumnus of UP is a great reference for any professional person in the business and science world. His one very special memory of Tuks was the day he was presented with his first degree by Prof Jan van der Merwe and Dr Dawie Marais in the Rautenbach Hall. “Both of them had a huge influence on my life, Dr Dawie as my rugby coach and Prof Jan as the person I looked up to as my role model, who motivated me to achieve success beyond adversity.”
In conclusion, Anton shares five lessons he has learned in his remarkable life so far:
- Persevere against all odds: “Never say die.”
- Maintain your business network and support base: “Never burn a bridge.”
- Put in hard work and sweat. Never say: “I cannot.”
- Take risks in what you believe in: “No regrets.”
- Work for passion and have passion for your work. Passion is what drives one beyond every day’s challenges.