Every day could be my last, says Springbok legend Joost
Former rugby star Joost van der Westhuizen opens up about his battle with motor neurone disease
SOUTH AFRICAN rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen, considered to be one of the greatest scrum-halves of all time, has told the BBC: "I realise every day could be my last."
Van der Westhuizen was given between two and five years to live when he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2011. The illness has confined the 42-year-old to a wheelchair, leaving him struggling with his speech and barely able to lift food and drink to his mouth.
"It's been a rollercoaster from day one and I know I'm on a deathbed from now on," he told BBC Sport. "I've had my highs and I have had my lows, but no more. I'm a firm believer that there's a bigger purpose in my life and I am very positive, very happy."
He describes memories of his successful career as a "source of comfort". He played a vital part in winning the historic 1995 World Cup on home soil in front of the newly-elected president, Nelson Mandela. He went on to captain the national team in the 1999 World Cup and led his team to victory in both the Currie Cup and the Tri-Nations.
England rival Matt Dawson has said he "loved" playing against him and considers him to be "not only one of the greatest scrum-halves of all time, but probably one of the top 10 players in the history of the game".
Van der Westhuizen concedes: "It's sometimes difficult to stay positive and motivated." But he says that, as a devout Christian, his faith and family have helped him come to terms with his condition.
He was at the centre of a cocaine and sex-tape scandal in 2008 and believes that battling the disease has helped him to become a better person.
"I led my life at a hundred miles an hour," he said. "I've learned that there are too many things that we take for granted in life and it's only when you lose them that you realise what it is all about.
"But I know that God is alive in my life and with experience you do learn. I can now talk openly about the mistakes I made because I know my faith won't give up and it won't diminish."
His focus is now on spending time with his two young children and helping other people with motor neurone disease through his J9 foundation. ·