Tracy Todd’s life changed forever 18 years ago when an accident left her paralysed from the neck down. Tracy was but a newlywed with a 10-month old baby boy. Following the horrific accident Tracy was left to pick up the pieces and start afresh.
In a no-holds barred interview with us, Tracy revealed how she not only lost the use of her upper and lower limbs, but with unflinching honesty, also told us that she lost her career, her independence and her husband (they got divorced a year after the accident).In the years since the accident, Tracy has had to learn how to adjust to life as a quadriplegic, but has thankfully had the support of the local community and her son. Her work as a motivational speaker has also ensured that she’s gained an unfailing fan base of supporters, all of whom look to her as a source of inspiration.
What she didn’t know was that she’d soon find love again.
In 2010, Tracy fell in love with Roy, whom she met online. The two connected very quickly, but it was only when Roy competed in a marathon on Tracy’s behalf and brought her the medal, that really sealed the deal for Tracy.
She says, and we quote: “He came to visit me in Mbombela after completing it and brought me my medal. After that visit, Sexy Legs (that’s Roy’s nickname by the way) ran off with my heart.”
Clearly Tracy has definitely found a keeper because on the 30th of April, the two of them tied the knot in a beautiful ceremony at the Kavinga Guest House & the Venue at Kavinga in Nelspruit, attended by close friends and family.Watch their opening dance below:
Video credit: Filmed by Mario Kolbe and edited by Johan Vermeulen
We chat to her about her big day.
Tracy (middle), pictured with her son Chad (left), caregivers (back) and her father, Henry Sinclair (right).
W24: Congratulations on your beautiful wedding day Tracy. You looked absolutely stunning. Can you tell us a little about your wedding planning process? How involved in the planning were you?
Tracy: "Thank you so much. I need to take you a step back and hopefully it will all make more sense. I normally stress about planning a simple dinner party with good friends, so I was terrified at the thought of having to plan a wedding.
I’ve lived in Mbombela nearly all my life and my community have been exceptionally good to me, especially over the last 18 years since I was paralysed. Here an entire community of Earth Angels are very supportive and almost “protective” of me, for which I am deeply grateful because it makes me feel incredibly loved."
Confetti strewn across the lawn at their wedding venue, Kavinga Guest House & the Venue in Nelspruit.
"When news spread of my engagement, my community all jumped in, again, offering their time, services and talents to help me plan my wedding.
Two very special Earth Angels in my life coordinated the entire planning process – Megan Billingham, a close friend and professional chef, and Wendy Loram, friend and owner of a local events business called Sound Systems and Function Design.
Myself, Megan and Wendy were joined by close friends, Pam and Lauren Fargher and my mom, Gail Sinclair."
The newly-wed Roy and Tracy Todd Heine.
"The six of us got together almost every Tuesday evening from the end of January until the wedding at the end of April, to plan.
We had copious amounts of champagne and lots of fun and laughter. Knowing what things cost these days and not wanting to hurt anybody by leaving them off our guest list, we decided to plan a picnic style wedding, where everybody could bring their families and picnic baskets to celebrate life and love with us.
We asked the Nelspruit Lions Club to run a cash bar and all proceeds went back into their kitty because we know the good work that they do in our community and that they support a lot of local charities. So it was a win-win situation."
Tracy's favourite flower, the Protea adorned the tables.
"I expected to have a very simple, casual picnic wedding without any thrills and frills, but my Earth Angels, committee and community would have none of that.
I ended up having a wedding that could easily have featured on Top Billing, but I guess I’m not famous enough for that and it didn’t cost us anything.
My fiancé, Roy, and I felt quite overwhelmed by everybody’s kindness and generosity. People gave generously of themselves – their time – the most valuable gift of all, because you can never get it back.
Local fashion designer and owner of a fashion school called Xela College of Design – Fashion and Interior, Alex Asman offered to make my wedding dress. She said that her inbox was overflowing with messages from people in the community, insisting that she do it, but she was more than happy to. "
Tracy pictured with her son, Chad
"Another good friend, Louise Hulley-Miller, who herself has faced many challenges in life, offered the venue at Kavinga free of charge.
It comfortably seats 250 people, but we used both inside and outside and managed a guest list of 450. I probably could have invited more people if there was more space. Everybody seemed to want to come and nobody seemed to mind bringing their own picnic baskets. Owners of CELEBRATE, a local florist offered to do all my flowers at no cost.
They asked what my favourite flower was, which is a Protea, which is exactly what I got. The gifts and blessings did not stop there."
The bride and groom at the altar.
"An ex-teaching colleague, now turned professional photographer roped in her husband, daughter and son-in-law to do the photography. One of their professional contacts agreed to do the videography at no cost.
A professional make-up artist did my make-up for nothing, as did my neighbour, a professional hairdresser, who did my hair. Another kind lady made my bridesmaid and flower girls dresses.
A special friend gathered money together to give to my care assistants so that they could each buy themselves a special outfit."
The just married sign hung up on the back of Tracy's wheelchair.
"Jenna Clifford (THE Jenna Clifford) designed and made a ring necklace because I’m unable to wear rings on my fingers. And so it went on… and on… and on. This community did not stop giving and blessing us.
And there are so many people to thank, I fear I'm never going to be able to do it. Most of them, though, expect nothing in return. There are still so many good people in this world. It was undoubtedly the best day of our lives."
Tracy and Roy, heading down the aisle.
W24: How did the venue, caterers and planners ensure that your wedding would be as accessible to you as possible?
Tracy: "Everybody bent over backwards to make my day the best ever. The local restaurant, Zest at Kavinga made all the food for my wedding party and guests could pre-order and pay for a picnic basket from them or bring their own."
Sign boards with directions for the guests
"Another family friend brought in two wheelchair friendly toilets because I had a few guests who needed accessible toilets. They arrange special parking for myself and my guests in wheelchairs as well as some of the very elderly guests.
They thought of absolutely everything. If I had to give you a whole list of all the people who helped in the build-up and planning, and on the day, you would have no space left to write an article."
More artfully arranged Proteas.
W24: What kind of constraints did you have to deal with when it came to deciding on a wedding dress to wear?
Tracy: "I think God sent me a true Earth Angel in Alex, the fashion designer. I haven’t worn a dress in 18 years, partly because it is too difficult to get it onto me and I worry about all the material underneath my butt, which could cause pressure sores and partly because I’m afraid my knees will swing open and I’ll look very unladylike."
Roy, the moment he first spotted Tracy coming towards him.
"But Alex came up with a brilliant plan – she made a three-piece wedding dress. It was a separate top, a matching pair of ski pants and then an apron which fitted snugly underneath my bust and draped over my lap and wheelchair so that it looked exactly like a dress.
Okay. Now I’ve given away the secret. I got so emotional when I saw myself in it for the 1st time, I had to fight back tears. I felt like a queen."
The wheelchair friendly toilets that were hired for the big day.
W24: What more do you think people in the wedding industry need to do to make weddings more inclusive towards disabled people?
Tracy: "Everybody’s needs are different. Don’t be afraid to ask and listen carefully to what they have to say. Make suggestions, but don’t take over."
A beautiful canopy, especially made for Tracy by Callum Adamstein from George
"They mostly have all the answers themselves anyway.
If you have a problem, like steps, for example, get somebody to make a suitable ramp to their personal specifications, which can be temporary if need be. You can hire wheelchair friendly toilets easily."
Jenna Clifford package - Jenna designed a ring necklace for Tracy as she is unable to wear rings on her fingers.
"There is a solution for everything that you may feel is a problem. Remember, we live with a disability each and every day. We can help you solve it.
Organising a wedding for somebody who has special needs is not as difficult as you think."
The gorgeous wedding cake, made especially for Tracy and Roy by a friend who now owns a cake business called Crissie's Cakes. The furniture like tables, chairs, place settings, glasses, et cetera were all supplied free of charge by Andrew Bullen , who has an event hiring company called Doug's Hiring
W24: Finally, what advice do you have for other disabled brides who are perhaps feeling self-conscious about their disability?
Tracy: "I’ve learnt that even the most beautiful model brides have insecurities. Remember that it’s your day, and you deserve this as much as anybody else."
The main table.
"If everything doesn’t go EXACTLY according to plan, don’t stress, because at the end of the day you must remember what a wedding is all about. In essence, it’s about sharing your love and commitment in front of your family, friends and loved ones. Be brave and stay strong."
A kiss for the bride, and pictured below, Roy and Tracy's caregivers cutting the cake.
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All image credits courtesy of Popcorn photography