Wade Stoffels


Wade Stoffels (20) followed an intensive three-month physical training regimen so that he could achieve a life ambition. A poor decision on one critical day put an end to that goal.

Wade was born in Cape Town and grew up in the area of Belhar.

“I’m the oldest of my siblings. I have two brothers and two sisters (17, 15, 12 and 10). We get along well.

“My closest sibling is my brother after me (3 years younger) – we are like friends. Since we were young, we always played together and even now we spend a lot of time with each other. He is the complete opposite of me. He is an extrovert and a people-person, and that is probably why we gel so well together. We used to play soccer and hide and seek in our neighbourhood. Our street was safe and we spent a lot of time outside.”

“I can’t remember what my dad’s work was but he did have a job. My mom worked as a receptionist and afterwards at a ‘help-line’ call centre. Our lives were good, we had what we needed.”

Wade comes from a close-knit family which assisted immediate, core family to survive during tough times.

“My grandparents stayed in Elsies River. I recall spending Sunday afternoons with them. All our family would meet there for lunch after church. My father has two sisters and two brothers, and together with their families, we were almost 30 people. Adults would sit and talk, and us cousins would play together. We continue doing that now, but now that we are grown-ups we no longer play soccer. Now we watch soccer in the lounge.   

“The only challenge I remember while growing up, was when both of my parents stopped their formal jobs. My mom stopped due to a moral dilemma – the organisation she was working for was performing abortions and she felt conflicted with her Christian values. My dad stopped working shortly afterwards, but I can’t remember the reason for it.

“I am not sure how we managed to survive, because my parents were without formal jobs for seven years. As children, we never felt the stress and we always had food on the table. My dad worked informally with his father, building burglar bars, and that earned him some money. I also remember my grandparents visiting us and bringing bags of groceries.

“Two years ago my dad found a full-time job as a warehouse manager and my mom is now home-schooling my three younger siblings. The schools in the area were problematic and my parents decided to take my siblings out of that system. Life at home has not changed drastically. The only change is that we now have more options in terms of food and clothing.”

Straight away – from day one – Wade did not enjoy school.

“I hated school, I liked my friends and breaks but I did not enjoy any of the subjects that were taught. I did not study and I only put some effort in for a few days before writing a test. I kept passing but performed poorly. This went on all the way from primary to high school.  

“After I finished matric, I applied to the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) to do IT but I didn’t get in. My guess is that my Matric pass (diploma) was not good enough to enter university. It was also the only place to which I applied. I always had an interest in computers.

“I got a job at a call centre on a contract for three months. I was at home after that. Then, my uncle told me that they were looking for people to pack deliveries at his work. I worked there for a week. I decided it was not for me. After that, I was at home.”

His father came home one night with news that could give Wade a shot at employment.

“My dad found out that they were looking for new recruits at the fire station close by. We went to the station together to find out what the requirements were. That’s when I found out that recruits have to run 2.4km in 11 minutes or less, do 30 push-ups in a minute and 30 sit-ups in a minute. They also had to be able to carry a dead load of 50 kilograms for 100 metres and only need to rest once. So, on the day of the assessment for new recruits, I had to be able to do all that.

“I decided to go for it. It sounded like something I could do and I would be saving lives.

I felt like I was fit enough and three months was enough time to train. I visited the fire station a few times after that and they told me that they would help me with the Math and English test once I passed the fitness assessment.”

Wade committed himself to a training schedule.

“I was training by myself. I’d wake up at 6 am, drink juice and I would do 30 sit-ups. I also knew that it was one kilometre from the traffic lights on the main road where I lived to the fire station. I would run there and back again every morning and again in the evening. I was doing well. I was doing it in nine minutes. At first, it wasn’t easy. But then I decided, ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to push through’. I would do the push-ups when I came back from the morning run.

“I was drinking a lot more water, but I didn’t really change my diet. I felt fitter. After the first month of training, I wasn’t getting tired. I could actually do more exercise if I wanted to.

I would take two 25 litre drums and fill them with water and walk with them. The first time I did it I dropped them! I’d walk four times with the drums, up and down the driveway, carrying one drum in each hand.

“My parents were for it. They were supporting me. My friends thought it was cool. When it rained, I still ran. I thought it would make me stronger. The assessment was scheduled for the 8th of August. Closer to the date of the assessment I increased my training to three hours per day.”

Wade felt confident about his abilities and thought that he had a fair chance at being selected on the day of the assessment.

“The night before, I was feeling okay. I thought that I could do it and that it was going to be a good day. We had to be at the assessment venue in Maitland at 8 am. I woke up at 5.30am and then I woke my dad up. We were going to take my dad’s motorbike but then decided, in order to avoid peak-hour traffic, to drive ourselves to my grandpa’s house and take the train, since the train station was five minutes away. One train was all it would take.

“We arrived early at the train station and the train was supposed to come at 6.45am. We waited and waited. The train didn’t pitch. We checked with the train station staff and the lady said she didn’t know why the train didn’t arrive and she suggested we take a train to Bellville, to go from there to Maitland. That was about 7.20am. We arrived in Bellville at 7.30am.

“So we waited again for the train and a short train with a few carriages arrived. It was very full. People were hanging out its doors and sitting between the carriages. It was packed. My father said that whatever I do, I must get on the train. He managed to get on the train and hung on to the frame of the door and I had to jump on. But I couldn’t actually jump on. The whole situation was bizarre. A fight broke out between passengers and people on the platform were using their phones to film how full the train was. My dad jumped off that train.

“He did not reprimand me, he just said ‘we will wait for the next train.’ When the second train arrived ten minutes later we knew we would be late, but we still got on the train because my father thought that he could explain that it was out of our control and that I would still be able to do the assessment. I was still hopeful.

“When we arrived in Maitland, we saw 400 to 500 people standing outside the gate. We walked up to the gate and my dad spoke to the person doing the register. My father told him how messed up the trains were and asked them to let me in. The guy responded to say that the person in charge had requested for 08:00 am to be the cut-off and that he couldn’t let anyone in.

“They were strict. My dad tried to convince him and said it was out of our control but we were told that there was no way I could get in. He said, ‘See all these people, they are arguing similar situations, no one else is going to get in.’ Then we walked back to the train station.

“I had trained for three months and then nothing happened. I was devastated. I saw my father was sad because he thought he could convince the guy to let me in. The train to take us back home came on time. My dad and I were quiet the whole way home.

“I believe in God, so I kept telling myself that everything happens for a reason. When we told my mother what had happened, my mother told me that I should not sulk. I could have sat in the corner and licked my wounds but I’m not like that. I decided that if I didn’t get in, then something better was probably waiting for me.

“One thing this experience has made me aware of is that that day we had resources. We only made the wrong choice. But thousands of fellow South Africans do not have the same. This might be their reality every single day. They probably lose opportunities and they might even lose their jobs because trains don’t arrive on time.”

When asked for his final remarks, Wade concluded: “In the past, I was fast to judge people who were not on time. I judged them based on my own reality/resources. I used to think that they were lazy or had failed to plan properly or that they were liars with excuses. I realise now that the reality of many people is quite different from mine. People who awake at 05:00 am or earlier, who risk their lives by walking in dangerous neighbourhoods to get to the station in the dark, who risk their lives again on overcrowded trains … they can be and are sometimes late.” 

Wade is a Life Choices Academy student.

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