Thrown from speeding train, a recovering Darryn August forgives attackers

The story of Darryn August grabbed headlines last year after he was assaulted, robbed and thrown from a train on the outskirts of Cape Town. His helpful nature to others, though, played a huge part in people jumping to his assistance in a crowdfunding campaign that helped to raise money for his recovery following spinal surgery. August pushed through his recovery, but the pinnacle of his experience was meeting his attackers. Instead of laying charges against them, he saw the struggles they faced and forgave them. – Gareth van Zyl

By Salesian Life Choices*

We’d like to think that if we witness a life-or-death situation, we would all jump to assist.  The reality, of course, is that the vast majority of people stand around and stare, hoping that someone else will come along. For some the urge to help is sporadic, for others, like real-life superhero Darryn August, the drive to assist has run strongly through his veins from childhood.

Growing up in Athlone on the Cape Flats, Darryn (27) says that for as long as he can remember he has had a desire to assist others. “Since I was young, I always felt an obligation to help, whether it’s helping someone carry groceries or helping someone with a project.”

As one of four children, he is the third eldest and grew up in a humble home with a loving mom and dad. His parents were actively involved in church and as a result, Darryn became a community activist. “My first community activism happened at church through their youth programme. However, when I was in High School I got further involved in community initiatives when I joined an organisation as a Peer Educator in Grade 10. This interaction really widened my world as I was introduced to new people from different backgrounds. I saw how exposure to leadership training can help people make good decisions in their lives and I knew I had found my calling.”

Darryn finished high school and decided to pursue his vocation of helping others. He joined an organisation in Somerset West that works with homeless children where he became a facilitator.

On a seemingly average day travelling to work, Darryn’s moral compass was challenged. “I was seated in a carriage (on a train) opposite three ladies when a few guys entered smoking marijuana. As soon as I noticed them I got a gut feeling that something was going to happen. I immediately hid my cell phone in my sock and I whispered to the ladies in front of me to do the same. The two guys approached the women and began to rob them. Instinctively, I stood up and punched one of the guys, growing up I did some boxing and thought I could handle it. The other guy grabbed me around my throat and stabbed me. At the time, I didn’t feel anything. Adrenalin was pumping so I did not feel any pain. I swung around and punched him… just at the top of his nose.” By this time five other males had walked over to Darryn.

Grossly outnumbered, Darryn kept fighting. At this point, the women ran away as he pleaded with them to call for help. Despite other passengers being on the train, no one stepped up to help and he noticed them leaving the carriage. “I got beaten really badly by these guys – they hit me with a baseball bat, punched, kicked and stabbed me.”

Relentless, the gang threw Darryn out of the speeding train. “I was thrown out of the train, the force knocked me out and I lost consciousness.”

A few hours after the incident a maintenance worker found Darryn in the bushes next to the railway line and phoned for help. The impact had broken his spine, he suffered two collapsed lungs and fortunately escaped without any brain damage.

Darryn underwent a three-hour spinal surgery soon after. Diagnosed with a T7 Spinal Cord Injury, his chances to walk again unaided were slim. After his hospital stay, Darryn was due to spend the next three months in a rehabilitation Centre. “Going through the rehabilitation was one of the biggest challenges I have faced. It was like my body didn’t agree with my mind, I would push myself so hard that the pain was unbearable. But at the end of the day, I did not mind the pain because I kept thinking of what a doctor had said about the movement in my toes – there was hope.”

Due to his continuous belief that he would walk again coupled with hard work, he completed his treatment in two months. Regaining the movement in his hands that were also affected by the impact of the fall. “I was relentless while in rehabilitation. The day for most of the patients ended at 14:00 but my day ended at 16:00. I needed to keep moving, it helped me to stay motivated and to start healing beyond the physical.”

While receiving rehabilitation, Darryn’s heroic story spread across South Africa and abroad. Inspiring all who heard his story, Darryn received messages of support and love. He became a household name.

To help support Darryn, his cousin and a friend set up a crowd-funding campaign, ‘Everest for August’ to raise money to assist the ‘train hero’ as he was now called by many media outlets. The expenses of Darryn’s ongoing recovery were forecast to be high.

Proving the power of community, the fundraising – that had an initial target of R50 000 – raised over R500 000. “I don’t know most of these people, but they have donated unselfishly and have made me even stronger in the process. It was very humbling and made me very emotional to know that so many people cared.”

While focusing on his goal of strengthening his body and adapting to life outside of the centre, Darryn continued his work in the NGO sector, motivating people with his remarkable resilience and determination. “I went back to work with homeless kids, and to my volunteer management role in a community- driven organic vegetable garden in Athlone. My physical condition has changed but my passion is unwavering. My determination assisted me to go back to my old life.”

Darryn knew that to complete the cycle and to fully move on there was something he needed to do. “I hired a Private Investigator to find my attackers. When they were found, they were brought to the police station. We had a long conversation and I asked them many questions about their lives and choices. We spent three hours together. I remember my face covered with tears when I realised that their pasts were similar to the children I work with every day.”

“My family and friends told me that I must press charges, but I wanted to give them a second chance. I believe people are good in nature and when someone gives you a second chance maybe this is your chance to turn your life around. It was also important for my own healing to forgive.”

Darryn concludes by saying, “there are no regrets when you follow your gut to do good. Even when the results seem unfair. I chose not to dwell on life but to trust that things happen for a reason. Challenges will come your way, do not allow them to deter you from your calling and keep adapting.”

  • Salesian Life Choices is an enterprise working towards human profit. We give youth in the Cape Flats (Cape Town) CHOICES, not charity. We promote dignity, not dependency.