Springbok superstar Cheslin Kolbe is a product of his choices, not his circumstances, writes CRAIG LEWIS in the latest SA Rugby magazine.
Kolbe features on the cover of our latest issue.
Once again, on Saturday, the Springbok superstar reminded the rugby public of his multi-faceted qualities when a clip emerged showing him taking the time to clean up some litter after a Champions Cup clash.
— SA Rugby magazine (@SARugbymag) April 3, 2021
To understand what makes Kolbe who he is, you also have to understand the background related to where he comes from.
Kolbe’s Springbok heroics in recent times — headlined by his stunning try in the 2019 World Cup final — have sent his profile skyrocketing, but he is still just a kid at heart: rugby is a jol, there to be played for the pure enjoyment of it, and to maximise his ‘God-given gifts’.
His infectious love for rugby is no different to when he was growing up in the Cape Town suburb of Kraaifontein, and when reflecting on that upbringing, Kolbe smiles as he tells SA Rugby magazine how his life-changing love for sport first took shape.
‘The memories from my childhood are still fresh in my head and it reminds me every day when I’m training how far I have come, and what I’ve had to do to get here. But I can still picture myself, as that young boy, running around and playing sport in the streets, basically just wanting to have a ball in my hand.’
Kolbe laughs when describing how before heading to bed as a kid he’d sometimes blow up a balloon as a makeshift rugby ball, while setting up pillows as would-be ‘defenders’.
It was during those days that a young Kolbe began to hone his side-stepping skills. ‘Even then I was just visualising myself being a Springbok,’ he says.
And yet that was easier said than done. Gangsterism and the drug trade were rife in the community, something that led to frightening first-hand experiences such as once finding himself dangerously close to being caught in the crossfire, and literally having to run for his life.
‘If it wasn’t for sport I wouldn’t be where I am,’ Kolbe says. ‘I would probably have become one of the victims, making the wrong decisions. Sport, and rugby in particular, guided me in the right direction and helped me make wise decisions. At the same time, it has taught me so much about discipline and working hard for what you want.
‘My dad was also a very good rugby player and someone I have really looked up to. When he trained, I’d be kicking a ball around, practising my side-stepping and picturing myself becoming a professional rugby player.
‘Also in those early days, [former All Blacks legend] Christian Cullen was someone I really admired as a player and who motivated me to lay out my own journey. I overcame the challenges of my community — gangsterism, drug abuse, poverty — but I honestly wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
‘Seeing people making bad decisions and going down the wrong course taught me so much and gave me that little bit more hunger to achieve the things I wanted in life.’
It’s such a humble upbringing that has also shaped Kolbe’s outlook on life. Nothing is taken for granted. His enduring philosophy is still to find ways to give back to the community, as when he spent lockdown back in South Africa last year, joining projects that assisted those in need.
‘I want to create as much awareness as possible and show people what can be achieved, no matter what circumstances they may have grown up in or experienced. I know I have a responsibility to set a good example and use whatever platform I have to make meaningful contributions where I can.’
Having said that, Kolbe readily admits he is still a ‘shy guy’ at heart and the spotlight that has come with his Springbok stardom has required some getting used to.
‘I’m a very quiet guy who doesn’t like to talk too much, but I’ve also learned that you have to put yourself out there, to express where you’ve come from and what your mission is in life because it can help others.’