Charels Oppelt’s Story – Project Hero

The Players’ Fund Project Hero sponsored by Canon SA is a visual documentary of five rugby players in South Africa whose lives were changed by serious injuries on the field whilst playing at different levels of the game. Their stories of determination, hope, dignity and the strength of the human spirit, illustrate heroic qualities which inspire and showcase the impact that the Players’ Fund has on their lives. In order to continue playing the role of Rugby’s Caring Hands, the Players’ Fund appeals to the rugby-loving public to see their faces, hear their stories and choose this worthy cause for charitable giving.

At 17, most of us feel indestructible, bursting with energy and full of enthusiasm. A disabling injury is just not part of the plan for the future. This picture of youth was epitomised by Charles, a talented school rugby player who played for his local rugby club in Mamre on most weekends. It was during a match in 2002, that he literally broke his neck, with the damage to the spinal cord leaving him paralysed, but thankfully able to self-propel using a manual wheelchair.

Today, Charles is well known for his wholehearted cheeky laugh, bubbly personality and positive independent outlook on life… however this was not always the case. For many years following his injury, he admits to having lacked direction, surrounded by the wrong people and unable to take responsibility for his future as a person living with a disability. Evolving from the person he was into the person he is today is attributed to many factors in a remarkable journey that we all can learn from.

His fiancé Carmenda is very much part of this story and looks forward to being Mrs Oppelt.

“The more that I can do on my own, the less people around me need to do.”

This was the first time since the accident that Charles had been on the field.

“It feels like I am still in that scrum 17 years ago. Since then, so many things have happened and changed – they all flew through my mind when I sat on that spot.”

Carmenda and Charles have been together for 4 years and are engaged to be married.

“Since she came in to my life, she has added a whole new universe to me. Together we can tackle anything and I don’t feel disabled. I treasure every minute I spend with her.”

“Exercise remains very important to me. I first found wheelchair rugby almost 5 years ago which I love. I was then lucky enough to be a subject in a PhD study at the Sports Science Institute of SA. I am also very grateful to the Players’ Fund who have enabled me to continue training with Rob and his team – they are like family.”

“This is ME!”