By Dan Lombard
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 the sport as it takes an already challenging code and cranks it up to a level most would faint at the sight of. Enter the 226 Mi Way BrickChallenge Race stage left.
Held over the weekend of 9-11 April this year in KZN, Koben and his racing team mate Johan van Dijkhorst (59), entered and completed the 113 race consisting of a 1.9 km swim, 90 km cycle and a 21.1 km run across an intense three days.
The duo spent 31 weeks preparing for this exceptional achievement and they deserve a pat on the back for defining human expectations.
“It was challenging to say the least. Long hours put into training and juggling commitments like school. The support from friends and family; Johan and all of our backers including the Players’ Fund certainly helped me to cross that line.”
However, the Grade 12 learner at Hoërskool Louis Trichardt ability to succeed physically needs a closer look because he was lying paralysed on a Limpopo rugby field just three short years ago.
The 19th of May 2018 will forever be etched into Hofmeyr’s memory as the day his life would be shattered as he suffered a catastrophic neck injury in a tackle while captaining his U16A charges against Hoërskool Bela-Bela.
An ominous crack followed by immense pain in his neck and a flood of pins and needles immediately 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 revealed the devastating news, Hofmeyr had broken his neck at the C6 vertebrae with the ability to ever walk again severely diminished.
Unfortunately, caring for spinal cord injured patients and their intensive rehabilitation program requires specialist hospitals and his home town just did not meet these requirements 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. 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 rehab at Muelmed MediClinic under physiotherapist Melanie Harding followed by hours of outpatient therapy with Margi 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 Hofmeyr’s recovery is an occurrence that does not happen often. Most rugby quadriplegics are destined for a life in a wheelchair. Call it luck; call it an unshakeable faith in God, his continued improvement is a miracle within itself.
Hofmeyr credits his journey thus far to the incredible #SupportSquad which includes his circle of friends and family; his girlfriend Wilma; teachers; complete strangers; the wider rugby community with a focus on the Springboks and Players’ Fund and those who have prayed for him and carried him in his thoughts.
“I enjoy the African proverb that states ‘if you want to go far, go together’ as it is so true. I may be the poster child of my journey but it’s those around me that shine the light forward.”
Completing the triathlon in April is not his only achievement as he’s earned provincial colours in Air Rifle Shooting, multiple academic awards resulting 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 as 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.
This was a final article written by the legend Dan Lombard, who was a recipient of the Players’ Fund who sadly passed away in June 2021, shortly after submitting this article.
A phenomenal writer, dedicated rugby fan and a positive role model for all whom met him!
We miss you Dan!