Springbok Rugby Legend Joost Van Der Westhuizen Dies After Struggle With Motor Neurone Disease

By Peter Pedroncelli AFKI Original Published: February 7, 2017, 5:29 am
Joost van der Westhuizen will be remembered as a hero on and off the pitch. Photo: ZAlebsJoost van der Westhuizen will be remembered as a hero on and off the pitch. Photo: ZAlebs

Springbok rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen passed away on Monday after struggling with with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) since his diagnosis in 2011. He was only 45.

Van der Westhuizen was a multiple record holder during his time as a player for numerous famed Springbok teams and his beloved Blue Bulls franchise. At a time he was the most-capped Springbok with 89 tests and record try scorer with 38 tries for the South Africans.

In a glittering career with the national team between 1993 and 2003, the scrumhalf won the 1995 World Cup before captaining the Boks to a third-place finish in 1999. He retired at the end of the World Cup in 2003.

Eight years after his retirement from the sport he loved, in 2011, a doctor and friend who noticed a strange weakness in his arm alerted him to the fact that he should have a few tests to rule out any concerns.

Unfortunately, the test showed signs that Motor Neurone Disease was taking hold of his body, and he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – a specific type of MND.

There is no cure for that debilitating disease, and Van der Westhuizen became determined to battle his circumstances with the same incredible fighting spirit that drove him on the rugby pitch.

He would not go quietly

He set up the J9 Foundation to help others struggling with MND while searching for a cure that could help him to beat morbid predictions by doctors that he would not live beyond two to five years.

By September of 2011 he noticed problems with his speech, and in 2013 he became confined to a wheelchair, as the decline in his muscles continued.

Throughout that time he continued to be an ambassador for the fight against the disease, bringing a great deal of much-needed attention to Motor Neurone Disease and the struggle for a cure. Unfortunately, on Monday the legend of world rugby passed on, but his legacy as a sportsman and a determined battler of the disease lives on.

He will be fondly remembered as a hero on rugby fields across the world, as a man with a big heart and charitable ambitions, and someone whose fighting spirit transcended the sports world and carried him beyond the maximum life expectancy that doctors thought possible.

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