by / Saturday, 11 February 2017 / Published in blog



What does it mean to be healthy? Being healthy is a combination of factors that over time, shape and mould the life of a human being. The definition of health is not only the absence of disease but also a positive health status of wellbeing, the ability to be active and productive in ones life. There are many people who are suffering from chronic illnesses who are healthy, yet at the same time there are many fit athletes that are unhealthy.

Definition of Health:

1 According to World Health Organization (WHO) the definition of health is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

The reason I have chosen to investigate and discuss this particular topic in further detail, is because I have had the privilege and honor of being exposed to a sports and exercise environment from a very young age.

Being physical has always been one of the biggest priorities in my life. In my opinion exercise has been like my daily dose of the “right medication” in order to keep going, or a form of a stress reliever for me personally.

What happens when you are a sporty, active individual and in a flash, everything is ripped away from you and you become disabled…physically disabled? Has it all been ripped away? How does the mind play a role in one’s recovery and healing process and is there a chance or an opportunity to get back on top again?

2“Is an untrained mind more disabling than a physical disability?”

As individuals we often wonder into a negative space that we struggle to get out of and if we cant control this thought pattern the danger is, this way of thinking becomes our daily point of view on life. So now you are physically disabled, a person who has gone from being physically active, a sporty individual capable of doing pretty much anything and tackling any challenge offered them, who has maybe lost a leg or both legs or someone who lost a hand and now needs to discover how to go from being a right handed individual to left handed one. What now? How does one see life and how do you pick up the pieces of fulfilling a childhood dream of representing their country on the sports field? How does one change their view of life and believe the phrase “A healthy mind creates a healthy body”

I have had the opportunity of interviewing an individual who had everything going for him and a remarkable human being who believes in the phrase “A healthy mind creates a healthy body.” So where did it all begin?


Profile: Johnny Bryan

Age: 65

Disability: Lost his right hand in the Rhodesian Army

By the time Johnny got to school he was an introverted person, being the only prefect excused from assembly readings as he could not face speaking in front of large crowds. When the time came to run onto a sports field, he was comfortable, confident and able to express himself. Johnny excelled in pretty much any sport he participated in. From a very early age Johnny realized he had the ability to play sport and to succeed in any sport he put his mind to. He also had the ability to watch a good sportsman and copy the attributes of that person, a rare talent in my mind. There was not a sport Johnny could not play. Being on a sports field he was happy and in a zone where he knew he belonged.

He was the only student in his high school to be awarded full colours for Hockey, Cricket and Rugby all at the same term. Johnny developed a very good reputation on the sports field that drew the attention of many sport scouts. Johnny found that sport and exercise was his way of escaping the pressures of introversion. It was at this point where Johnny had a passion and dream to one day represent his country on a sports field.

When Johnny left school he was selected to represent the Rhodesian U/21 Rugby Team. He also played league cricket, hockey, squash, baseball and Water Polo. At this point Johnny had also been introduced to the gym environment as it was imperative that he became stronger for the rigors of his sporting career.

During this time Johnny was called into the army for basic training for 9 months. He maintained his fitness and strength training by using the gym facilities offered by the army. At the age of 25 Johnny was married 2 weeks after their wedding day Johnny returned to the army base for further training. It was then that Johnny was out in the field where a plastic explosive went off prematurely and blew his right hand off. He remembers this day so clearly as I listen to him speak through the details of the accident. Not only did he loose his right hand at this point but his body was badly burnt, both ear drums were burst and his eyes were burnt from the hot explosive plastic.

Johnny could see the result and consequences of the explosion for about 2 minutes before he was blinded. On the way to the hospital he remembers so clearly asking the medical staff to just give him something that would end his life right there and then. The first thought that crossed his mind was his sporting career and that the possibility of every playing sport again or even representing his country, was gone. The dream had died so what was the point of being alive?


Determined and defiant Johnny refused all forms of rehabilitation offered to him in the hospital. He spent 2 weeks in the hospital recovering but refused to attend rehabilitation appointments where he was to learn how to write and do what was necessary as a disabled, single handed person and deal with the psychological aspects of the disability.

Winning the “war” in your head as a disabled person is a result of winning a whole lot of “small battles.” At this point he believed it was the right thing to do. “You don’t know at this stage the total impact of the disability, the mind plays so many games with you and all you see is the loss, reminded constantly by the pain. One of the battles is believing you are acceptable as you are in public. Yes you are different and you are stared at, and it’s a harsh reality to have to accept and get to the point of understanding this so soon after the accident.” says Johnny.

Johnny had been removed from the battlefield of the Rhodesian War but now had the challenge of the “battlefield” in his mind. There is no doctor or psychologist who can win these battles of the mind for you, it’s a war you fight and you fight alone. No one can motivate you, they can create an atmosphere for you to be motivated, but they cannot motivate you. That is true in life in general. One needs to have a vision and a goal in order to be motivated. Johnny’s vision at this point was to change his life by winning this mind war, battle by battle, step by step, challenge by challenge.

People with disabilities often face social barriers and an attitude that evokes negative perceptions and feelings of discrimination. As a result of this, disabled people are faced with a feeling of being excluded from community life which deprives them of the confidence to approach opportunities often only presented to able bodied people. This affects their well being and development, mentally and physically.

I believe sport and physical activity can assist in reducing the stigma and discrimination associated with disability changing the attitudes of people with a disability by making them aware of their skill and abilities and by reducing the tendency to focus on the actual disability and instead focus on the person.

Often disabled people after winning the “mind war” pick up and walk straight back onto the field or exercise environment and start to tackle the new challenges life now has to offer them and in doing so they reshape their own assumptions of not succeeding and others perceptions of what they can or cannot do.

By spending time with Johnny I have come to realize he can do more with one hand than what people with two hands can do purely because he believes there is no challenge in life he is not willing to attempt.


For Johnny to go back onto a sports field after his accident and after 8 months of fighting the “mind war”, empowered him to realize his full potential.

The Rhodesian army made him a prosthesis enabling to hold a cricket bat and giving him the opportunity to play cricket again.

This also gave Johnny a chance to go back into the gym although at first he had no idea how to now perform an exercise that once was very natural. It wasn’t long until the mind became very creative and Johnny was able to perform a simple bench press. He had to teach himself from the beginning all over again how to perform an exercise, analyzed the movement and discovered how the muscle group would work utilizing the prosthesis and leather straps in order to perform a simple bicep and tricep curl and push respectively. He uses straps to pull so exercising his back is not a problem.

The first attempt at a bench press failed on a 30 pound 3rd repetition. Instead of giving up this motivated Johnny even more to tackle the challenge of succeeding. Patience was now the bigger lesson in order to develop the muscles on the right side of the body. On many occasions the option of steroids presented itself however Johnny never saw this as an option as a “quick fix” was never the answer, only hard work and determination and the vision and goal was the driving force behind every decision made.

Physical change became evident after 2 months of hard work and commitment. His training took place everyday for a1h30 min sessions. A vision of what he wanted to look like. The 1st step to success is achieving something small. Month by month Johnny’s goal was to improve his body image. This was assisted by him going back onto the soccer field and playing 1st league. Two years later he went back to rugby and played some of his finest games as a disabled person, driven by a desire to compete against and beat able bodied opponents.


Having not had the opportunity to represent his country on the sports field, Johnny discovered another way whereby he would be able to represent his country.

Sport or physical training, being active acquire vital social skills, develop independence and empower a disabled person to change and discover other aspects of a sporty career where they will succeed. With Johnny’s exposure to baseball in the past he started coaching women’s softball. He was selected as the National Rhodesian Softball coach in 1975.

1979 – Johnny moved to Cape Town with his family where he played league rugby and soccer. He was also selected as the Western Province Softball coach for both men and woman.

1990 – Johnny formed the youngest team in the school league, an U/9 girls softball team including his twin daughters.

1991 – 1993 – Johnny was transferred to East London and was selected as the Border Softball Coach for both junior girls and senior women’s teams.

1994 – Johnny was again transferred to Johannesburg and was selected as the Gauteng Women’s Softball Coach and U/19 Gauteng Girls Coach.

1996 – Was an incredibly exciting year for Johnny as he was selected as the South African Softball Coach and took the SA Women’s Team to the Africa Games winning the Gold Medal.

The dream of representing his country had finally come to pass in both Rhodesia and his adopted country, South Africa! Johnny overcame a tragedy and created an opportunity for himself and others.


3 Psychological studies show that your mind and your body are strongly linked. As your mental health declines, your physical health can worsen. And if your physical health declines, you can feel mentally “down” A positive outlook can help keep you healthy.

So what do Psychologists say about exercise? Most often people focus on the physical benefits of exercise and pay less attention to the psychological benefits that being active promote. Engaging in a moderate amount of physical activity will result in improved mood and emotional states. Exercise can promote psychological wellbeing as well as improve quality of life.

Common psychological benefits gained through exercise:

1. Improved self-esteem
2. Pride in physical accomplishments
3. Increased satisfaction with oneself
4. Improved body image
5. Increased feelings of energy
6. Improved confidence in your physical abilities
7. Extreme selfconfidence
Body Image and Physical Activity:

4 What is Body Image?

Body image refers to the thoughts, feelings and perceptions you have about your body appearance and shape.

Body image can influence physical activity. How we feel about our bodies plays a big role in what type of exercise we perform. Those with a positive body image are more likely to engage in physical activity than those with a negative body image.

We need to focus on positive body talk and positive mind perception of what our bodies look like. If we are constantly saying “I can’t” or “I look funny doing that” or “I look fat” need to be replaced with positive ones like “I can” or “I am strong” and “I don’t care what I look like now, watch me”. We need to spend more time focusing on what our bodies can do and not what they can’t do.

No one wants to be disabled but its up to them how they overcome their disability and are able to move on with life, living a productive and physical life. It is important to set goals and imagery can help physically disabled individuals or athletes manage pain and disability, to increase confidence and allow them to venture back onto the field.

5 Research suggests that maintaining a positive attitude and using mental skills are related to a shorter rehabilitation. In fact, when Levleva and Orlick (1999) compared slow and fast healers, they found that the fast healers:

• Took personal responsibility for healing
• Had high desire and determination
• Had more social support
• Maintained a positive attitude
• Used creative visualization
• Were less fearful of failing upon return to full participation


I have watched an individual for 36 years live every day with a disability, an individual who didn’t tell me how to live; he lived and let me watch him be a perfect example of a dedicated and committed person.

I watched how he managed and still manages his pain, I have watched him succeed beyond all measures, have been exposed to his incredible strong mind.

I have been influenced by his capabilities of doing anything he puts his mind too. I have watched how he has healed hearts with words of encouragement through motivational speaking.

I have had the absolute privilege and honor of watching him on a rugby field….never felt more proud, the honor of being coached by one of the country’s most elite coaches.

A man who has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that “A healthy mind creates a healthy body”

Johnny Bryan, a remarkable man of honor, pride, an inspirational human being, my hero and I am more than proud to call you DAD!.

You are a living example that physical activity can heal!