‘Every day is a gift’ – New AmaTuks coach on life-changing accident

Posted on September 20, 2018

When Evangelos ‘Van’ Vellios was told he would be handed the reins of AmaTuks Football as interim Head Coach from 1 August, he was shocked at first. Vellios, who was then Head Coach of UP’s Varsity Football team, says he couldn’t believe he’d been chosen to replace former Bafana Bafana striker Shaun Bartlett, who he regards as a football legend.

He knew he’d have big boots to fill, but ‘Coach Van’, as he’s affectionately known by his players, knows all about facing difficult challenges. He spent 16 months recovering from a horrific head-on collision that nearly claimed his life. In December 2016, he was on his way back from visiting his parents in Maputo, Mozambique, when an oncoming car crossed the carriageway and crashed into him outside Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit) in Mpumalanga.

Tukkievaria spoke to Coach Van about his difficult journey to recovery, and his new role at Tuks Football:

What do you remember about the accident?

The impact knocked me out, and I remember waking up to the car being totally smashed, and smoke all around me. I asked a bystander if the car was on fire, and fortunately it was not. I could not move, as I was crushed inside the car.

What were your first thoughts after realising what had happened?

I thought this must be a horror show, as I saw my leg in pieces. There was a lot of blood and broken bones. So you can imagine the excruciating pain I was in. I was also quite scared, and the wait for the ambulance seemed a long time. It’s an experience I would not wish upon my worst enemy.

Tell us about the injuries you sustained?

My injuries were life-threatening. I had fractures to two vertebrae, which caused severe spinal injury. The list goes on: shattered tibia, broken fibula, broken ankle, broken foot, ruptured and detached tendon on a finger on my right hand, and many bruises and cuts all over my body – resulting in me requiring multiple stitches.

Tell us about your rehab: How long did it take, and what was involved?  

There were times when I questioned if I would ever walk again. Would I be able to return to my normal life? Would I ever be the same again? However, my faith in God gave me hope, and I believe it helped with my healing. My family, friends, colleagues and even strangers gave me love and care. I spent one month in hospital, three months at home, and a year doing rehab. I had four operations and had an external fixator inserted into my left leg. It’s a stabilising frame that held my broken bones together in the correct position. That was the closest I came to being Iron Man, with all that metal in me [laughs].

Are you fully healed now?

Even though I have completed my rehab, I still cannot run or put too much pressure on my left leg, which was crushed. The severity of the damage to my bones in this leg still impedes my movement. I don’t let this get my spirits down, though, as I am fortunate to be alive, and every day is a gift that I cherish.

Did you get much support from UP?

I received incredible support from the hierarchy at the University of Pretoria – from the Sport Directors, managers, coaches, colleagues and athletes. All I felt was love, support and courage from everyone at UP. Then I just had to follow the advice that my doctors and rehab team gave me. It was a long and painful process, but by God's grace I was able to make it through, and I count every day that I live now as a blessing.

What keeps you excited about your work now?

After my accident, it’s difficult to take any day for granted. Now I see each day as a gift, right from driving onto the sport campus, seeing all the athletes working hard towards their dreams, and getting to the field and seeing my colleagues and players. It really inspires me and lights the ‘fire that burns in my belly’. It’s my passion. Coaching is something I see as my purpose in life.

Tell us about your time at TuksSport.

I studied Sport Science at UP from 2003 to 2006 and later did my honours in Sport and Recreation Management. Through those years, I coached junior teams and the Castle team at Tuks Football.  In 2012, I became HPC Tuks Football Academy Manager and started to coach the USSA Football Men's Team. From 2012 to 2015, we were able to open doors to many future stars through the academy. We also dominated student football, winning two USSA National Championships and two Varsity Football Cups. In 2015 I became AmaTuks assistant coach and in 2016 I was designated Technical Coordinator for the entire football programme. Since 1 August 2018, I am Caretaker Coach of AmaTuks.

And you’re having a rather great start to your time as Head Coach, we believe…

[Laughs] Yes, AmaTuks has played four games and achieved two wins and two draws since the beginning of August. We’re currently tied in first position in the National First Division, with 8 points in total.

What is your message to young football players?

A dream without a map to reach it is just a fantasy. Have your dream and aspirations, draw the steps with guidelines and time frames on how to get there. Once you have the map, work very hard every day on spiritual, mental, physical and tactical components in order to reach your goals – with the dream always on top of the map.

Any concluding thoughts/messages?

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at the University of Pretoria and TuksSport for their prayers, love and support. I will never forget what it means and has meant to me. God Bless.

- Author Myan Subrayan

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