In a world riddled with doom and gloom, the story of Ari Seirlis – a young man whose life changed in a millisecond – will inspire, encourage and fill you with hope. Review by Chris Hoare.
Ari Seirlis lived a charmed life which included Hilton College, the University of Cape Town, a Comrades Marathon, a trip out East, skiing in Austria, and working as a male model with a string of girls on his arm. This all changed in a millisecond when Ari was 23 – a severe waterslide accident on the Durban beachfront rendered him a quadriplegic.
Yet Ari has achieved more for quadriplegics – and done more from his wheelchair – than several able-bodied men have. A key turning point came when Ari embraced the disability movement, becoming CEO of QASA (the QuadPara Association of South Africa) and growing that organisation to reach stellar status amongst NPOs.
We get an inkling of Ari’s style as a civil activist and lobbyist from the photograph on the cover of his biography. It shows him leading other quadriplegics, all wheelchair-bound, in the burning of an old wheelchair at a SANRAL branch in Johannesburg to draw attention to their opposition to the introduction of e-tolls.
He organised another fiery demonstration at SAFA House to protest at SAFA’s lack of attention to FIFA’s guidelines for wheelchair seats at the World Cup stadia in 2010.
This was one courageous man, a mensch of the highest order, fighting from his wheelchair to improve the lives of the disabled.
In a life packed with highlights, one stands out: participating in an adapted quadbike in no fewer than 16 races on back roads across the country, raising literally hundreds of thousands of rands for quadriplegics.
Later, QASA mounted a fundraising campaign which was aligned with Superman, and next thing we read how Ari and Christopher Reeve – himself a quadriplegic – were swapping life stories and making a TV advert together in the USA. Then came the Superman gala dinner where Ari had a few whiskeys with John McEnroe, met Buzz Aldrin and had a quick chat with Robin Williams.
Other memorable episodes in Ari’s extraordinary life included completing the New York Marathon in 2005, a doomed spell with the Independent Democrats, acting as an advisor to President Thabo Mbeki on matters affecting persons with disabilities, assisting Nelson Mandela with his birthday celebrations, attending international conferences as keynote speaker, fly-fishing from a wheelchair, and running a number of small businesses.
And if you work in fundraising, lobbying, or the NGO space, you will learn from and enjoy Ari’s descriptions of QASA’s savvy, innovative and sustainable funding and development models which have had widely successful impacts.
Let Ari take you with honesty, humour and self-reflection on a journey of wonderful highs and desperate lows. You will be moved and inspired.
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