Meet Dries, Pioneer Of Adaptive Surfing In SA
By Vanessa Papas
Dries Millard had a bucket list. Become a Springbok, travel the world, break records and leave a legacy. While a spinal cord injury robbed him of wearing green and gold it opened the door for Dries to surf pursue the big blue. A paraplegic, Dries is one of the pioneers of Adaptive Surfing in South Africa and the only surf coach with a disability who is only internationally-accredited.
“Rugby was a way of life for me early on in my schooling career, I always trained hard to make provincial teams, six hours a day every day. I played lock and eighth man for Boland three years in a row,” says Dries, speaking to us from his home in Saldanhabay on the West Coast. “In my matric year, two weeks after craven week, I was in the car accident. I remember the very first week post accident I was still in ICU when the u18 Springbok coach for that year visited me in hospital to give me the good news, that I made the national team, only to tell him that I won’t be playing rugby again. That was the most bitterest sweet pill I have ever had to swallow. My ultimate dream was to wear green and gold.”
Recalling the accident, Dries explains he was driving back to school in Worcester, from a visit in Paarl. By that time he’d driven the du Toits kloof mountain pass more than a 100 times over being in boarding school (Drostdy THS). “We usually stopped on the top of the pass just before you head over the neck to look over the view of Paarl. That evening on the way back, a truck took the turn too wide in to my lane. I had to swing out of the way from being trampled and went over the edge of the narrow pass road. I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt and when the car started tumbling I was jerked out and from that fall I broke my T8 vertebra and suffered instant spinal cord injury. My friend that was with me went down with the car, having seatbelt secured saved him, he was able to get out and stop someone for help in the road. If he wasn’t with me, I doubt anyone would’ve ever found me there. The truck driver drove away.”
Dries says he remembers everything, including the moment he realised he couldn’t feel his legs. “The complete finality with which the realisation hit me, that I’m paralysed and everything is going to change. I lay there on my back in the slopes of the mountain just basking in the night sound, keeping calm for four hours before the managed to get me to safety. I had no other injuries, just the one broken vertebra that severed my spinal cord.”
Doctors insisted Dries be hospitalised for six months but with his matric farewell less than two months away, and the end of his matric year in sight, he was determined to go home earlier and was discharged after five months.
Surfing had always been Dries’ ‘secret weapon’ when it came to physical and mental fitness so following his accident he decided to get on his board. “I was devastated when I lost rugby, but I was almost defeated when I thought I had lost surfing,” he says. “The first week after I came out of rehab, I tried surfing again but almost drowned in knee deep water being mauled around by whitewash. I had no idea how to control an uncontrollable body in the ocean. It was almost a year after rehab that I managed to actually catch and ride a wave again, it wasn’t a good one, but more than enough to really spark that urge to ride open wave face again. I have added modifications to my board, placing some holding traps to the deck of my board made steering easier and placing the fins strategically to enhance prone surfing is two key factors that makes my surfboards different from conventional surf boards.”
Dries says surfing has saved his life “I’ve lost 50kg since I’ve started pursuing surfing as a full-time career in 2015 and before it became a competitive sport it led me to meet so many others living with disabilities through the adaptive surf events I organised since 2011. I pioneered adaptive surfing for others living with disabilities as both an alternative rehabilitation and as a competitive sport in South Africa, surfing has given me new purpose in life and a platform to pursue greatness. Adaptive Surfing is basically surfing for disabled people. I introduced the sport to South Africa in 2011 and since then I’ve hosted numerous events for people with both physical and mental disabilities. The movement has inspired so many other people that last year we had the first national championship. Clubs are forming in all surfing regions to start provincial teams. It’s the beginning of a new sport and I’m the spear head of the movement as the only internationally qualified surf coach with a disability in the world, since 2011. I was keynote speaker the very first ISA adaptive surf world champs in California 2015.”
Dries has participated in several surfing competitions. He came fifth at the first world champs ever held for adaptive surfing in 2015 and in 2016 became the first national champion in the prone division. Unfortunately he was not able to represent at the 2016 world champs due to a pressure sore he sustained. In addition, Dries is a motivational speaker. “I focus a lot on schools. I find that kids are more open to accepting different people and if I can get them to think in terms of inclusion as the next generation of engineers, doctors and politicians hopefully the disabled community of the future will have less things to fight against if basic infrastructure is catered for. So I show the kids what it means to be differently labelled. Who knows, maybe I inspire the doctor who will find a solution to spinal cord injuries one day, as a Wings For Life World Run ambassador, this is my main goal. The Wings for World Run (a charity whose mission is to make spinal cord injury curable) is a cause I hold close to my heart. It brings together a community from all over the world to help find a cure for spinal cord injuries. Because every single extra person who runs for those who can’t brings the cure for spinal cord injury one step closer.”
Pay It Forward
Wings For Life World Run fund world-class scientific research and clinical trials around the globe aimed at healing the injured spinal cord. Millions of people with spinal cord injuries share a single dream. Through taking part in the Wings for Life World Run you can help us to make this dream a reality. 100% of your entry fee goes to life-changing research projects aimed at healing the injured spinal cord.All administrative costs of the event and foundation are kindly covered by the Red Bull company. For more information on how you can get involved, log onto www.wingsforlifeworldrun.com