Not just surviving but thriving

Koben Hofmeyr has only begun to chase his potential. DAN LOMBARD reports

The world is currently operating under abnormal circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, for 18-year-old Koben Hofmeyr, this is exactly the arena in which he thrives.

Endurance triathlons are seen as the pinnacle of sport as it takes an already challenging code and cranks it up to a level – the sight of which would make most faint.

Enter the 226 MiWay Brick Challenge Race stage left. Held over the weekend of April 9 to 11, this year, in KwaZulu-Natal, the race consists of a 1,9-km swim, a 90-km cycle, and a 21,1-km run across an intense three days. Koben and his racing teammate Johan van Dijkhorst (aged 59) entered and completed the race. The duo spent 31 weeks preparing for this exceptional achievement and they deserve a pat on the back for defying human expectations.

“It was challenging to say the least,” Koben says. “Long hours were put into training and juggling commitments like school. The support from friends, family, Johan, and all of our backers, including the Players’ Fund certainly helped me to cross that line.”

However, this Louis Trichardt High School Grade 12 learner’s ability to succeed physically needs a closer look … considering he was lying paralysed on a Limpopo rugby field just three short years ago.

May 19, 2018, will forever be etched into Koben’s memory as the day his life would be shattered. He suffered a catastrophic neck injury during a tackle in a game where he was captaining his U16A charges against Bela-Bela High School.

An ominous crack followed by immense pain in his neck and a flood of pins and needles greeted the gifted athlete who also excelled on the track. Initially, he could move his legs as he desperately tried to get back in the game – a mindset he shares with many of his fellow catastrophically injured players on the Fund.

A trip to the local hospital after the incident revealed the devastating news, Koben had broken his neck at the C6 vertebrae with the ability to ever walk again severely diminished.

Unfortunately, caring for patients with spinal cord injuries through intensive rehabilitation programme requires specialist hospitals that aren’t in his home town.

Thus, it was decided to airlift the teenager – who sports a dashing face and a smile that could cross the space-time continuum in an instant – to Life Groenkloof in Pretoria.

“Honestly, the memories of the day are blurry,” Koben recalls. “There was quite a bit going on at the time and I was sedated. The reality was yet to set in.”

The months that followed were gruelling. Intensive rehabilitation at Muelmed MediClinic under physiotherapist Melanie Harding, followed by hours of outpatient therapy back home, saw him recover enough to leave his shocking green wheelchair, aptly named Shrek, behind as he moved to using crutches permanently.

It must be noted that Koben’s recovery is an occurrence that does not happen often. Most rugby quadriplegics are destined to a life reliant on a wheelchair. Call it luck, call it an unshakeable faith in God, but his continued improvement is a miracle within itself.

Koben credits his journey thus far to the incredible #SupportSquad, which includes his circle of friends and family, girlfriend Wilma, teachers, complete strangers, the wider rugby community with a focus on the Springboks, the Players’ Fund, and those who have prayed for him and carried him in their thoughts.

“I enjoy the African proverb that states: ‘If you want to go far, go together’. It is so true. I may be the poster child of my journey, but it’s those around me that shine the light forward,” Koben says.

Completing the triathlon in April is not his only achievement. Koben has earned provincial colours in Air Rifle Shooting, multiple academic awards, which has resulted in his acceptance to study Computer Engineering at the University of Pretoria, and various daredevil activities such shark cage diving and bungee jumping.

For this young man, the world is his for the taking. His attitude towards life is testament to an unrelenting human spirit that resides in us all. It just takes a slightly different perspective to realise one’s own resilience. And you, Koben Hofmeyr, have turned winning with a losing hand into an art form.

Author Dan Lombard

On June 11, 2021, Dan Lombard (Benji) passed away. The Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund provided the below short message around Dan. Our condolences to his friends and family.

Dan Lombard (Benji)

15 February 1990 – 11 June 2021

Rest in peace dear friend, recipient of the Players’ Fund, champion in every way, hero to many, son, brother, nephew, proud uncle, loyal friend, devoted family man, rugby guru, sports journalist of note, founder of Tiger Stripes Revolution, forever Bulls supporter …

You left us unexpectedly, but the wonderful memories and your legacy lives on.

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