Since 1980, the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund has been the caring hands for the rugby industry in South Africa. When rugby injury changes a life, the fund steps in to offer help and hope by ensuring that the injured player retains their dignity, leads a fulfilled life and retains as much independence as possible.
Help is provided on three levels:
Injured players might not be able to play the game they used to, but they are encouraged to remain part of the rugby community. It takes a team to “pick up” a player – the Players’ Fund joins this team and remains part of it indefinitely.
The Players’ Fund provides mobility equipment such as wheelchairs and other essentials to improve the quality of the recipients’ lives.
The fund’s staff and board of trustees are a phone call away, offering strength and encouragement to the injured player and their family as they learn to cope with the new journey ahead of them.
Recipient Henry Afrikaner was injured in June 2007 and echoes the sentiment recipients often mention to the staff of the fund: “I’m so grateful that my injury happened on the rugby field, because if I didn’t have the fund to turn to, I really don’t know what I would have done.”
As a pillar of strength for injured rugby players, the Players’ Fund extends the ethos of rugby well past the final whistle. The staff of the fund have partnered with more than 500 players and their families through the most uncertain and scary hours following injury, and this is where the strength of the human spirit, dignity and hope are the indomitable characteristics.
It is the fund’s belief that South African rugby players and supporters need to see, understand and “feel” these heroic stories, which will inspire and pose the question: How do they do it?
This will be achieved with Project Hero – a visual narrative using photography and videos to tell the stories of five rugby players from very different backgrounds, whose lives were altered by a debilitating injury. Sponsored by Canon South Africa, these stories of determination, hope and strength of human spirit illustrate heroic qualities that inspire others and showcase the impact of the fund.
Each rugby player volunteered to open a small window into their lives, giving photographer Nardus Engelbrecht and videographer Halden Krog the rare opportunity of capturing moments in their day that most viewers never would have been privy to.
Images range from the very early morning routine of Captain Quenton Steele, ensuring that he gets to work at the South African Navy in Simon’s Town on time, to Amos Mzimeli’s 25-minute motorised wheelchair ride home from work, along rutted dirt tracks in his village in the Eastern Cape. These images evoke strong emotions and will move anyone who sees them.
Meet the Heroes:
Fifteen-year-old Koben Hofmeyr from Louis Trichardt in Limpopo ran onto the field for his school’s U16 side in Bela Bela in May 2018. On that day, a tackle resulted in his head being trapped between the opposition player’s legs, and a spinal cord injury instantly changed the direction of his life.
Henry Afrikaner, then 28, was playing for his local Klipheuwel rugby team near Stellenbosch in June 2007 when he sustained a spinal cord injury in a collapsed scrum and was declared a quadriplegic. Five years later, after being voluntarily confined to his bed, suffering from depression, Henry chose to take command of his life again and, for a second time since 2007, his life took a U-turn.
At 17, Charles Oppelt was a talented school rugby player who often played for the local rugby club in his home town Mamre over weekends. It was during a match in 2002 that he literally “broke his neck”, damaging his spinal cord. The accident left him paralysed but able to self-propel in a manual wheelchair.
Captain Quenton Steele was injured in March 1998 at the age of 30 while playing for False Bay Rugby Club in Constantia. At the time, his eldest son was 13 months old. The level of Steele’s injury is such that he requires 24-hour nursing care. He is only able to move his head and uses a ventilator to aid sleeping at night.
Amos Mzimeli lives in a village called Mooiplaas just outside East London and remembers well, way back in 1990 when he was 18, when a bad tackle left him paralysed and dependent on a motorised wheelchair for all mobility. Living as a quadriplegic in rural Eastern Cape was very challenging then. It is still far from easy now, but that doesn’t deter Amos, who is known for his strong character and determination under the most difficult of circumstances.
Project Hero will roll out through 2019 with the aim of creating awareness of the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund and encouraging people to choose Rugby’s Caring Hands as their charity of choice. If you’d like to show your support please email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.playersfund.org.za.