Joosts rugby career
Joost spent his entire club career with the Provincial State side the Blue Bulls, from 1993 until 2003, whereupon he retired from playing rugby. He spent his entire career as a scrum half, and has the honour of being part of the first ever South African team to win the Rugby World Cup when the Springboks triumphed on home soil in 1995. Many observers of the game highlighted his contribution to the team as vital, and a driving force behind the team's successes.
As a scrum half, despite standing 6 ft 1 ins, an unusually tall height for a scrum half, he was known for finding and penetrating the tiniest gaps in opposition defences, and his willingness to move forward and join the attack, which brought him 190 points from 89 international caps.
In defence, he played with savage aggression and a fearlessness, often producing heroic and result-defining tackles. This attribute was rigorously noted most during a game against New Zealand, who were favourites to win the World Cup. Jonah Lomu, New Zealand's winger, made a typical battering run from deep. He defied several challenges before Van der Westhuizen hauled him down just outside the 22m line.
Joost was capped 89 times for the Springboks and scored 38 tries. He retired as the most capped Springbok of all time His career test try tally of 38 makes him the scrum-half with the most tries in Test Rugby. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest half-backs of all time, as evidenced by his presence in the 2007 induction class of the International Rugby Hall of Fame.
It was a sunny afternoon in Johannesburg in March 2011. I was in the pool with a doctor´s friend of mine, playing games with my son. Dr. Henry Kelbrick noticed that my right arm was lagging slightly and he asked me if I have experienced weakness in my arm, he also noticed that my speech was slurred and he decided to send me to a neurologist for tests. On return of my test results, I was sitting in Dr. Kelbricks office when he broke the horrific news of my diagnoses to me. I think it must have been one of the most difficult things for him to do. Being the optimist I am and not knowing what motor neuron disease is, I asked him to prescribe me medicine so that my life can continue. He replied; “I´m sorry my friend, this is a fatal disease and there is no cure.”
And so the second half of my life started. This was the beginning of a whole new chapter that forever changed the way I perceived and tackled life.
At that time, Joost was given between two and five years to live. He travelled to Harley Street in London in late April 2012 to see if treatment could help him. After receiving a once daily treatment of Aimspro (administered by a subcutaneous injection), Joosts condition has been stabilised with a degree of improvement being observed in the subsequent months since starting treatment. In January 2014, he returned to the USA to participate in clinical studies with ALS researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He also planned to visit the Eleanor and Lou Gehrig Center in New York City, which provides support to MND patients, as Joost hoped to start a similar organisation in South Africa.
He remains active operating his J9 Foundation, devoting his time to MND issues, and regularly spends time with his children, a son and a daughter.