Walking around with a broken rib like nothing is wrong. is commendable. Playing a Rugby World Cup final with a broken rib and winning the cup for your country, well, that takes commitment to a whole new level.

And of course, it’s with this same heart and spirit that Joost van der Westhuizen has taken on his motor neuron disease two decades later.

Given only 24 months to live when he was first diagnosed in 2011- the Springbok scrum half has defied the odds and now stands at 60 months. But unlike other sufferers of this debilitating disease, Joost has chosen to remain positive and has been traveling the globe teaching others about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s Disease and raising funds to assist other sufferers of this disease.

In 2014, South Africa lost another ex-springbok to ALS. Tinus Linee who played for the Springboks in 1993 and 1994, died of the disease in 2014. In fact, there seems to be a strong correlation between long-term participation in contact sports and the incidence of ALS.

Research has shown a six-time higher incidence of motor neuron disease in former professional football players in the United States.

But irrespective of the correlation, Van der Westhuizen is adamant that he would not want it any other way. The ex-rugby player has stated the disease has been a blessing in disguise for him, and has rid him of his arrogance and self-absorption which characterised his rugby-self, years ago.

There is a lot we can learn from the celebrity’s spirit in facing such personal adversities. For one, feeling sorry for ourselves and second-guessing our choices will lead nowhere; we should simply take the bull by the horns and make the absolute best of the lives we have – even if we had no hand in the cards we we’re dealt.

Facts about Joost van der Westhuizen

  • Born 20 February 1971
  • He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Pretoria
  • Played locally for the Blue Bulls from 1993 to 2003
  • Represented South Africa in 89 test matches, scoring 38 tries
  • Retired from rugby in 2003
  • At 1,85 m he is taller than the average scrum half
  • Inducted into the IRB International Rugby Hall of Fame in 2007
  • First noticed weakness in his right arm in 2008
  • Diagnosed with ALS in 2011
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