The Incredible Schalk. Everybody loves a good come-back story.

18 June 2024, Tuesday

Winning is not something that you are given in life. Winning is something you take in life.

There is something about sport. It dramatizes life. It consumes our human emotions. It speeds up learning. It speeds up winning and losing – the successes are instant, the failures dramatic. And transparent for all to see. It represents a microcosm of life, but best of all are the heroic comeback stories of our sporting heroes.

Cast your mind back to Andre Agassi who set the tennis world alight. From World Number One in 1996, he found himself ranked 141 in 1997. His game plan crammed full of the wrong stuff ! One year later he regained the number one world ranking . Agassi credits the wise mentorship words of Nelson Mandela – for inspiring his come back to become the oldest person to ever hold the World Number One ranking – earning him the nick-name  of ‘the comeback kid’

Andre, be careful with your decisions, Andre, be careful with your words, Andre, be careful with your relationships. Andre, we must all live our lives carefully.’ Nelson Mandela. 1997.

Such stories abound, but fast forward to another legend of sport, Schalk Burger. Schalk has always had a game plan crammed full of the right stuff – revered and admired by his peers and opposition – no matter at which ground he plays. But, he participates in a game where injuries are part and parcel !

Schalk’s story is truly remarkable – having come back from a serious, potentially career ending neck injury to be part of Jake White’s World Cup winning team in 2007. Jake stated that Schalk had the work rate of three players. Game after game he would put his body on the line and give it his all. Surely he was in line to take over the Bok captaincy from John Smit, but sadly it was a bout of injuries, starting with a knee injury in 2012 that was to really test his mettle – and his resolve. A back scan revealed a cyst on his spine which needed to be drained. It was during the draining operation that Schalk contracted a hospital bug which led to bacterial meningitis placing him in isolation for 5 days. Meningitis is a serious illness and Schalk was engaged in his fiercest battle yet – the battle for his life.

Most people believed that this time around , it was the end of the road for the Springbok legend, but Schalk was not having anything of it. Doctors and specialists had told him he would never play rugby again. Burger refused to take that verdict to heart. Instead, he took it as a challenge. He climbed straight back on the horse , and remarkably found his way back into Heyneke Meyer’s Bok squad. Coming off the bench at his home ground Newlands, he inspired the Boks to a second half driven victory over the Wallabies – after a lack luster first half team performance. Six months later he delivered a ‘man of the match’ performance at Twickenham. The Incredible Schalk was back, and  now he’s  on the verge of being part of the Bok’s 2015 World Cup run for glory. It will be the forth World Cup for the 32 year old since making his debut as a young man in 2003 in Australia.

Congratulations must go to Schalk !

Every sports loving South African knows that his recognition at the recent Laureus  Sports Awards was not just about his come- back story, but more about his human greatness. From rugby great to human great, Schalk plays the game right and he lives life right! A great South African !

Before I got injured and ill rugby played a massive part in what I was and what I did. It dominated life. After that life got put into perspective for me. I wasn’t an emotional guy beforehand but now I do get quite emotional about the sentimental side of things. Rugby is a much smaller part of my life.

See you at World Cup 2015 Schalk! You’ve made so many magic moments. Long may they continue as it’s the kind of spirit that you display – which will help the Boks bring it home !



* Brand Strategist, Rob Opie is the founder of a Strategic Brand Consultancy: The Game Plan , a Key Note Speaker, Author and Game Changer to organizational teams, sports teams and individuals.

Rob’s passion and purpose is to help elevate brands from good to great to greater – inspiring  ‘the next level’ of individual and team growth –  and contribution ! His ground breaking ‘The Game Plan Method’, which embraces potent game changing methodologies – and draws on insight and inspiration derived from the great champions of business, sport and life, is currently sweeping across South Africa, creating and delivering on extraordinary stories of success and significance.