The world that greeted Ronald Dlamini outside the hospital was foreign. Devoid of light. Absent colour. Blindness had swallowed Dlamini’s life in the grips of a meningitis-induced coma. After a week under the supervision of doctors the MMA fighter was discharged with a torrent of thoughts swirling inside his head. But just when despair threatened to overwhelm him, one faint fragment of neural energy crossed his mind’s eye and made him stop. He was thinking. His body was moving. He was alive.
Three years earlier Dlamini had reached the pinnacle of his sport, becoming the first black man to win an MMA championship. Now he faced a far more challenging climb. A fighter to his core, he committed to facing his personal battle in the ring. But this time it wouldn’t be about championship bouts, because Dlamini’s sudden lack of sight gave him a new vision for his future – one centred on helping others like him. Particularly troubled by the consistency with which blind people are victims of crime, he put his experience to use designing a self-defence course tailored to helping the visually impaired.
“As a nation I believe we are all capable of greatness,” he says. “We can make room for the champion inside us.” Dlamini is sparring with the opposition life threw at him by guiding others through their struggles, equipping them with the skills needed to defend themselves. In the process his wounds have healed, and his champion’s heart beats prouder than ever. Fighting remains Dlamini’s sanctuary of freedom. He has shown incredible adaptability to keep it that way.