It took only a few seconds for her to lose weeks of her life. After her Toyota Yarrs crashed head on into a bakkie, she was trapped in a cocoon of unconsciousness and when she awoke her world was irrevocably changed. Torturous years of rehabilitation were to follow Initially she was forgetful, frightened, frantically searching and frequently failing to find a coherent memory. Now, Dr Sweetness Beteck, who received her PhD from the North-West University (NWU) on 23 June in Human Movement Science, no longer has to look back on her road of recovery, but to the path of opportunity that lays ahead.
It happened during the June holidays of her Honours’ year as she was driving back from her parental home in Mbombela to the NWU. Someone who saw her in the direct aftermath of the crash told her that her head had swollen beyond recognition.
“I was in a coma for three weeks. I can’t really remember anything. After I woke up I had amnesia, so I knew who I was, but I was in a different timeframe. By that time in my life my father had already passed away, but I believed he was still alive. I thought Thabo Mbeki was president and not Jacob Zuma. I was confusing things, I was misunderstanding information. I already thought I obtained my PhD in biokinetics. I even believed I was a general in the military!” she exclaims without a hint of melancholy.
Although she woke from the longest of slumbers – and found herself in a fantasy world – her dream that started as a young girl seemed to be derailed.
Growing up she was part of a group called Children of Peace, and together they would dance the afternoons and weekends away. She remembers this time fondly, as well as the mentoring role the used to play for a girl in her local neighbourhood.
“I think you learn more by teaching others,” explains the soon-to-be 40-year old. Then there was her twin brothers who are almost a decade her junior. “My passion for exercising and giving instructions comes from them,” she laughs. “We used to exercise in our garage at home. That was fun,” she recalls.
“When I was in matric, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) came to our school to market possible positions in the military. They said they needed professionals, people who were willing to go and study, especially maths and science fields. They gave out bursary forms, and I applied.” Thus, her journey to the North-West University had begun.
She enrolled for her BSc degree at the NWU in 2005 as part of the special Mildent program to ensure inclusivity in the biokinetics profession. She obtained her BSc-degree in Human Movement Sciences, followed by her BSc Honours in biokinetics. In 2011 she enrolled for the MSc in biokinetics degree, and she was She was appointed as a biokineticist for the SANDF in 2012. In 2015 she was promoted to senior biokineticist and has been the chief biokineticist since 2021 for the South African Military Health Services in North West.
But, even before that, her calling beckoned due to her compassion for her loved ones.
Diabetes is runs rife in her family. “I grew up seeing how my late godmother (with whom she lived for many years as a child) received insulin injections, a lot of my close relatives have diabetes and now I am seeing how my mom is receiving diabetes injections.”
She pauses, digging through her memory to the roots of where her vocation started.
“I always thought I would grow up to become a nurse and help with the injections.”
That was not to be. She realised that a lack of education on the health benefits of exercise good nutrition was not only severely affecting the lives of her family, but the community that she holds dear to her heart.
“I am passionate about helping people and helping people to lead better lives. To live quality lives. That has influenced by studies from the very beginning.”
As she grew into becoming a sought-after biokineticist, it struck her again: “I had so many patients from other ethnicities, but so little from black Africans. I know our people need this, but they are not exercising. I was eager to know why. Do they know the benefits of physical activity Do they know that physical activity can save their lives? Hence, my field of research.”
Her research culminated in her PhD thesis titled Contributions of supervised exercise on the perceptions and knowledge of black Africans on physical activity and risk factors of non-communicable diseases: the B-Healthy-study.
“I knew Sweetness before her accident and she was a very strong student,” explain her PhD promotor and the director of the research focus area: Physical activity, Sport and Recreation (PhASRec) at the NWU, Prof Hanlie Moss.
“The road that she had to walk following her accident is nothing short of remarkable. She had redo her Honours’ year, and despite all the setbacks, she never looked back and kept persevering,” says Moss.
Then was no better testament to this then when Dr Sweetness Beteck walked across the stage on 23 June to a chorus of applause. It was a moment she will never forget.