There are too many things we take for granted in life and it’s only when you lose them, you realise what it is all about – Joost Van Der Westhuizen.
Monday mornings are like a math problem. Add the irritation, subtract the sleep, multiply the problems and divide the happiness.
However, this particular Monday morning (6/2/17) the happiness was non-existent. The world was deeply saddened by the loss of Joost Van Der Westhuizen. He was one of the greatest rugby players to ever grace the field and possibly the greatest scrum half to play the game. Joost had an illustrious career, winning 89 caps for South Africa between 1993 and 2003, scoring 38 tries (a record until Bryan Habana overtook this more recently) and being an integral member of the South African team who won the World Cup in 1995 on home soil.
Mark Alexander, the South African Rugby President said “Joost will be remembered as one of the greatest Springboks – not only of his generation, but of all time”. An inspiration, a great, a hero are all words that spring ‘bok’ to mind.
Over the past seven years, Joost had suffered from a horrible disease – Motor Neurone Disease (MND). This is a fatal, rapidly progressive disease that affects the brain and the spinal cord. It attacks the nerves that control movement, speech, breathing and swallowing, so that muscles no longer work. Sufferers of the disease are confined to a wheelchair and even oxygen machines. No way to live. Worst of all, MND has NO cure, meaning that every diagnostic is a fallen victim to this horrid, horrid disease. Having my own personal experiences, I know just how horrible this is.
Who remembers the ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) Ice Bucket Challenge back in the summer of 2014? Well, whilst people were having fun dumping buckets of ice and cold water on each other or even themselves, this was raising heaps of money and a great deal of awareness towards this disease.
On Monday evening, I spent a couple of hours reading up on Joost whilst coming across some articles on MND. Back in 2007 my uncle (Uncle Teds) was diagnosed with MND. He too, a very talented scrum half who was taken far too young, at the mere age of 41. He was 34 when he was diagnosed. No one deserves to have their life taken away from them so soon. I was very close with Uncle Teds – he was an exciting, fun and bubbly character who always enjoyed a joke – his best one about a tortoise and a turtle on a hill. He was still a kid at heart. He always had a smile on his face, even through the seven years of pain that MND brought to his life. I am still marvelled by his bravery, courage and what seemed like fearlessness to this terrible disease. Joost was just the same. He showed consistent external endurance and willpower to fight the disease, even though he knew that death was an eventuality. I remember hearing an interview with the BBC back in 2013, Joost said that “It’s been a rollercoaster from day one and I know I’m on a deathbed from now on”. He said that every day could be his last. It is a cruel thought, to think that someone knows that every day could genuinely be their last. Joost became an inspiration to many fellow sufferers of MND (including my uncle) aswell as the suffering families too. In his final years, he injected a lot of his energy into setting up his own J9 Foundation – a charity which seeks to help other sufferers with the disease.
Here is a Twitter conversation between my Uncle and Joost in which states “keep up the fight”.
Upon writing this piece, I thought long and hard about what I have learnt through Joost, my Uncle and my experiences from this. Personally, I have three lessons I have learnt:
Lesson 1 – Live for Now
People may not listen to this, having been written by a 21-year old, but I don’t think this matters. After all, that is more than half of my uncle’s life. It is important to realise that every day is a new opportunity. With this past experience, I believe it is important to ‘live for the moment’. This may sound very cliché BUT you never know what is round the corner, ever! Do the things you have always wanted to do, however big or small they may be. Why wait? Life is precious, but it needs to be lived too. Live it and live it with a smile on your face!
Lesson 2 – Never Give Up
“Keep up the fight” as my uncle said. This experience has given me a different outlook on life in that we should never give up. Again, whatever that may be…whether it is fighting a disease or never giving up on that job you’ve always wanted. Upon being diagnosed, both my Uncle and Joost were given a couple of years to live. They both went on to defy their doctors’ predictions because they never gave up.
Lesson 3 – Don’t Take Things for Granted
Joost Van Der Westhuizen famously quoted saying “I’ve learned that there are too many things we take for granted in life and it’s only when you lose them that you realise what it is all about”. Don’t let the struggles of everyday life allow you to take the little and obvious things for granted. Never take anything for granted because in a blink of an eye it could be gone forever. It’s a harsh reality but you will never think that the last time is the last time. You will think that there is more. You think that you will have forever, but you don’t.
AND… LET’S FIND A CURE FOR MND!