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Fighting brave battles

  • 01 Aug 2013

Former Springbok hooker JOHN ALLAN pays tribute to South African rugby players who have had to deal with serious illness, and explains how you can help Tinus Linee, who has been diagnosed with motor neuron disease.

It was with extreme sadness and despair that I read Tinus Linee had MND, a horrible disease that attacks your muscles. Tinus was my room-mate on the Springboks' 1993 tour to Australia, I played against him when he was at Western Province, and we played again together for the SA Rugby Legends.

A few years ago I watched a friend of mine, John Mudgeway (who played for Natal in the 1990s), die from MND after a brave five-year fight.

Other friends of mine have also had to deal with a disease or virus.

Ruben Kruger passed away having had a brain tumour from cancer, which he fought for over 10 years (at one stage, it was believed he had beaten it).

I will never forget the last time I chatted with Ruben, at his home before he passed away. He gave me the most valuable lesson – that every day when he woke up he was so overjoyed that he could spend another day with his young family. He appreciated that and made the most of this time. Why don't we all do this now?

Ruben was a fantastic rugby player; your classic openside flank who was always first to the ball and in the middle of a ruck stealing the ball. He had a huge heart and a never-say-die attitude – who can forget his outstanding play in the 1995 World Cup?

Rest in peace, Ruben, you are gone but not forgotten.

After winning the Player of the Tournament award at the 2006 World Rugby Legends Festival in Durban, André Venter, another loose-forward legend, caught flu. He then picked up a virus which attacked his spinal cord and lost the feeling in his legs.

Can you imagine what it's like for the fittest rugby player I have ever known to suddenly lose the use of his legs? One day you are running on the road and doing extremely vigorous exercises in the gym and next you are in a wheelchair.

André was the most determined rugby player in his day and epitomised the term 'work ethic'. When he was in hospital and rehab trying to recover, the record for rolling a wheelchair up a steep ramp and back was 15 – the new record once André checked out was 50.

André is very positive about life – he did not become depressed and ask 'why me?'. Instead he readjusted his life and focused his attention on his family and business life (he is a very respected and successful businessman). He has also dedicated time to helping other people in wheelchairs to face life's challenges and has raised hundred of thousands of rands to help paraplegics and quadriplegics.

André still believes that he will walk again one day, and I continue to pray that he will.

Joost van der Westhuizen is probably the most high-profile friend of mine to have been diagnosed with MND (I always wonder why rugby players get this disease – is there something in the fertiliser in the ground that affects certain individuals?).

Like André, Joost is facing his challenges and believes that they will find a cure and that he will see his young family grow old. And like André, Joost has started his own foundation, J9, which gives financial and moral help to other people with similar conditions.

Joost was a legendary rugby player and playing with him for the Springboks was always a treat as his explosive runs and quick reactions near the tryline gave the team an edge.

Joost, you will always be in my prayers as you fight your battle.

If Tinus Linee tackles his MND in the same way he tackled on the field, he stands a good chance of survival.

How can we help him?

Tinus is having a fundraiser on 8 October in Cape Town. Please pass the word around on social media and go to to book a table or seat.

I Iook forward to seeing you there.

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