A physiotherapy graduate from 2012 has been selected as one of the Mail & Guardian newspaper's Top 200 South Africans for 2021, an honour which has led to him paying warm tribute to his lecturers and mentors at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University.
Nicholas Pereira (32), who founded the physiotherapy practice, Enhanced Physio, in KwaZulu-Natal, was honoured for his commitment to creating resources that many people can access.
In an interview, he said he feels “incredibly proud and humbled" to have made it to the prestigious Mail & Guardian list which is now in its 15th year. The list showcases South Africa's eminent and accomplished young people – the “incredible innovators and trailblazers" in the country.
“There are a lot of really good professionals out there and not all of them are recognised," Pereira said. “In receiving this award, I'd like to point out that nobody does it on their own. Many people helped me to get here. I hope I am doing them proud and that they can see I'm making the most of the opportunities I was given."
He added that he has had a great deal of contact with his FMHS lecturers and the physiotherapy staff since his graduation. “They have been a massive part of my career success."
Born and raised in Mitchells Plain and the southern suburbs of Cape Town, Pereira played cricket at primary school and at high school, before moving onto the hockey fields. He attended Westerford High School where he excelled in sports and was offered a recruitment bursary to attend Stellenbosch University.
“It made the fees a lot more affordable for my folks and me," he said. He worked part time while his parents assisted him with the remaining fees.
Pereira completed his BSc Physiotherapy at the FMHS in 2012, and went on to complete his MSc Exercise and Sports Physiotherapy at the University of Cape Town in 2019.
“During the undergraduate years, we had a mentorship, through which every student was assigned a lecturer as mentor. I had Dr Marianne Unger as my mentor and she was able to see things in me which I couldn't see in myself. When I left university, and during my community service year, we kept in touch. It has been such a valued connection."
After leaving university, Pereira went to Queenstown in the Eastern Cape to do his community service.
“I did volunteer work at Queens College, a boys' high school, doing job shadowing for the boys' rugby. I learnt a great deal there.
“I then got a job in Pietermaritzburg working in sport and with outpatients in physiotherapy. From there my career took off."
Pereira started as a junior physiotherapist at the Maritzburg United Football Club in 2014, and has moved from the junior teams, to first team physio and subsequently head of physiotherapy. He opened his first practice at Hilton College in 2017, and still serves as their head of physiotherapy currently.
He opened his own physiotherapy practice in KwaZulu-Natal in 2017, which currently operates at multiple venues in the KZN Midlands – Hilton College and Maritzburg College. It also services various professional sports teams – Maritzburg United Football Club and Hollywood Bets KZN Tuskers, the cricket team.
He has also been the research consultant for South African Schools Hockey since 2019.
“My biggest contribution to my field in South Africa, which likely led to the recognition by Mail & Guardian, was my blogging/vlogging and social media presence which I have pioneered to create resources for the public, my clients, and colleagues. I've used social media to teach the philosophy of preventative healthcare to the youth and to professional athletes, as well as to create awareness around physiotherapy in South African and to incite meaningful dialogue. I am also a lecturer for EduPro health an online professional education company."
Pereira said his career highlights include attending two hockey world cups tournaments with team South Africa, becoming team physio for Bafana Bafana in 2015 and working in professional soccer in South Africa with Maritzburg United in the PSL since 2014.
On his World Cup experience, he added: “Just representing South Africa at a global event was incredibly special and to do that at an early part of my career was so fortunate. I was at the right place at right time, doing the right thing."
But it was undoubtedly the opportunities he had early on in his career that really made the difference.
“The bursary to Stellenbosch University changed the course of my life. I am so grateful for the opportunity it has afforded me and for the quality of education I was given, which has helped set me up with an incredible career in sports physiotherapy. I managed to start my working life without massive student debts – a huge advantage in today's economic climate."
Pereira is married to sports scientist, Roslyn and has a new baby daughter Olivia, born in July this year.
Most of his spare time is spent doing sports activities. “I am an exercise enthusiast. I enjoy running and Crossfit. Working with athletes as I do, I like to be fit and as disciplined as I expect them to be!"
Asked about his future plans, he said: “I believe my practice will continue to grow and I hope to meet, collaborate, interact with and reach more people and further promote health and wellness. I would love to attend the Olympic and Commonwealth Games with South Africa and maybe come back to Stellenbosch University for a PhD – but I'm more than grateful and content with my career thus far, and am excited to see how the future of physio in South Africa is shaped by my generation!"