South African sport stood tall on Wednesday after rugby stalwart Schalk Burger won the Laureus World Comeback of the Year award at a glittering ceremony in Shanghai, China.
Flat on his back with a life-threatening bout of meningitis, Burger rose like a phoenix from the ashes, and, after having to teach himself to walk again, regained his place in the Stormers and Springbok rugby teams.
Burger, who has also had to battle numerous rugby injuries during his illustrious career, is also a Laureus Ambassador.
The last two winners of the award were tennis player Rafael Nadal last year and athletics ace Felix Sanchez.
Thirty-one-year old Burger joins a long list of South Africans to be honoured at the prestigious awards ceremony.
Paralympians Ernst van Dyk, Oscar Pistorius and Natalie du Toit have all won the Sportsperson with a Disability Award. The South African rugby team have also won the Team of the Year and legendary golfer Gary Player has won a Lifetime Achiever award. Exploreraenturer Mike Horn also won the Alternative Sportsperson award a few years back.
Sports24 reported that reflecting upon the most serious stage in his time in intensive care, Burger said: ‘I remember the day where my wife phoned and everyone said, listen, this is probably it, it’s time to say goodbye. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. It was super scary if you think back now.
‘But when you’re going through the middle of this and there’s no time to think really, there’s no time to think about consequences it was pretty much just me versus something.’
‘The odds weren’t on my side, as I gather. It’s probably one that I shouldn’t have come out being as normal as I am,’ he recalled. But for me, through a bit of luck and I think through a bit of stubbornness, I was able to pull through.’
‘The story of Schalk’s recovery is amazing. He not only survived such a serious illness, but in a relatively short time he was back in the Springboks team and winning matches for them. What a great tribute to his fighting spirit. All he needs now to complete this remarkable comeback is to have a wonderful World Cup later this year,’ said Laureus World Sports Academy Member and All Blacks rugby legend Sean Fitzpatrick.
Former Springboks captain Morneacute du Plessis, who was also manager of the 1995 World Cup winning team, said: ‘I have known Schalk and his family for many years and I know that there were very real concerns for his wellbeing during his illness.
‘It really was a great relief for his family, friends and supporters to just see him well again, not even to think at that stage that he would make a miraculous comeback and be back to his best on the rugby pitch.’
The Laureus World Sports Awards were unveiled at the Shanghai Grand Theatre.
‘In other categories, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic won his second Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Award after another brilliant 12 months which featured a second Wimbledon victory, while Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba was named Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year after breaking three world records in different events in two weeks. She was only the third ever person to achieve that feat in different events, along with athletic giants Jesse Owens and Usain Bolt.
The German Football Team was named Laureus World Team of the Year after becoming the first European side to win the FIFA World Cup in South America, while there was a double success for the United States with wheelchair racer Tatyana McFadden winning the Laureus Disability Award and Alan Eustace receiving the Laureus Action Sports Award after his record-breaking freefall from the edge of space.
Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo was named winner of the Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year Award after a brilliant rookie season in which he won three Formula One Grand Prix for Red Bull.
The Awards were announced in seven categories.
The full list of winners is:
Laureus World Sportsman of the Year: Novak Djokovic
Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year: Genzebe Dibaba
Laureus World Team of the Year: Germany Men’s Football Team
Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year: Daniel Ricciardo
Laureus World Comeback of the Year: Schalk Burger
Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability: Tatyana McFadden
Laureus World Action Sportsperson of the Year: Alan Eustace
There were three additional Awards: the Laureus Spirit of Sport Award was presented to Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming, the Laureus Academy Exceptional Achievement Award was given to retired tennis star Li Na and the Laureus Sport for Good Award was presented to the worldwide skateboard programme Skateistan.
During the event, it was also announced that Yao Ming and Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar had been elected the newest members of the Laureus World Sports Academy.
Source : South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee