In a feature from SA Rugby magazine, DYLAN JACK caught up with former Western Province and Stormers flyhalf Gary van Aswegen.
A schoolboy prodigy, Gary van Aswegen was also an up-and-coming player for Western Province and the Stormers before injuries took their toll and was forced him into an early retirement
The flyhalf starred for Hoerskool Standerton and made the Pumas U18 squad for the 2008 Craven Week, slotting the winning goal in their victory over Western Province. It was during that tournament that he caught the eye of then Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus.
‘I always wanted to play for Province, which is quite weird, given that I grew up in the Transvaal. My dad was a Province supporter so I grew up in Province jerseys. It happened very very quickly. But it was awesome. Coming from a very small town it was a big deal for me. It was a dream come true.’
From there, Van Aswegen’s career took off as he progressed quickly through Province’s youth ranks, playing his first senior game in 2010.
‘I didn’t think I would start playing senior rugby as early as I did,’ Van Aswegen admits. ‘At that age, things can happen quite quickly and you don’t really have an option but to adapt. Even though everything was new to me, you get a choice to swim or sink. I just tried to embrace it as much as possible.’
At just 21, Van Aswegen made his Super Rugby debut when he stood in for Peter Grant, who had commitments with the Kobe Steelers in Japan.
Following Grant’s return, Van Aswegen was relegated to a substitute’s role but received another starting opportunity against the Lions at Ellis Park. However, injury struck just 15 minutes into the match and Van Aswegen was forced off the field with the first of what was to be many knee injuries.
‘It was rough. Emotionally it was tough. It was a six-month layoff. That was the first time I had been rocked by such a long-term injury. I tried to surround myself with some of the older guys who had been through the same thing, which turned out to be a very good idea.
‘My injuries to a certain extent were a blessing in disguise, especially when I think of life after sport. It actually freed up a lot of time for me to start adventuring into the world of business and gain a bit more experience outside of rugby because I was forced to do it.’
Following a short move to the Kings in 2014, Van Aswegen decided to retire in 2015, at the age of 25.
‘At that stage I had about five knee operations before my arrival at the Kings. The 2014 season was amazing and we were building towards Super Rugby. But in 2015 I got another knee injury, which was not as serious, but was misdiagnosed and that led to three operations in one year. I really struggled to recover. I couldn’t get over the pain in my knee. Four surgeons gave me the same advice: it was not a good idea to keep playing.
‘With the issues the Kings were going through, combined with not getting positive feedback on my knee, and the fact that I had a business up and running, I decided it was time to retire.’
Life After Rugby
During his playing career, Van Aswegen aligned himself with Mannatech, a health and wellness company, while establishing his own sales company, G&C Marketing, on the side.
Today, he runs G&C Marketing part-time while also branding himself as a motivational speaker and establishing a sports academy in Standerton.
‘The academy is very focused on empowering the community, giving kids the opportunity to play the game, to grow and to get life skills,’ Van Aswegen says.
The first year away from rugby was the most difficult of his transition.
‘I was still in denial. I thought that there could still be a chance to play. I was also a bit angry at rugby and didn’t involve myself in the game at all, I did not even watch a game.
‘I always tell my friends and family that you will never get to a stage where you are completely over it. You grow into different spheres of life but you always miss the game because it is such a big part of your life. ‘
Van Aswegen adds that it is important for young players to have a plan for life after their careers.
‘I cannot stress the importance of having a Plan B, especially when I think of how difficult it was for me to make the transition.
‘When you are a young player, you always think you have time and that you have 10 or so years of playing. Unfortunately, the reality is that you don’t. I would strongly recommend either studying or doing something as simple as reading business books and autobiographies on successful entrepreneurs. It opens up your mind to a different world.’
Van Aswegen is married to high school sweetheart Charmaine. The two moved back to hometown Standerton and have a one-year old daughter named Luca. The family enjoys spending quality time together and visiting game reserves.
Photo: Peter Heeger/Gallo Images/Getty Images