CAPE TOWN, May 8 (Reuters) – Two years ago Schalk Burger was fighting for his life but in a remarkable turnaround in fortunes he is now battling for a place in South Africa’s Rugby World Cup squad.
The loose-forward was so ill from bacterial meningitis after having a cyst close to his spinal cord removed that family were advised say their goodbyes.
The 2007 World Cup winner has not only returned to the rugby field but has displayed the kind of blistering form for The Stormers in Super Rugby which looks almost certain to book him a ticket to this year’s global showpiece.
"I was seriously ill and battling for my life,” the 2007 Rugby World Cup winner was quoted in South African newspaper Business Day after claiming the Comeback of the Year prize at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Shanghai.
"On about the third day in hospital my wife phoned my family and closest friends and told them to come and say goodbye because I was on my way out.
“I was conscious of it. But I was literally just fighting from heartbeat to heartbeat. And every heartbeat felt like a knife stabbing in my brain.
“At times I felt like just stopping, but I could literally feel myself then slipping and would have to fight again.”
Passionate on the field, the 32-year-old said he used anger to help him fight off the disease that caused him to lose 30 kilograms in weight.
"I saw it as a fight that I had to win. At that stage there was a lot of confusion, and I think a lot of my motivation was driven by anger.
“I was also newly married and my eldest son was six months old, so that gives you added motivation to fight and battle through."
Although hoping to seal a place in Heyneke Meyer’s squad for the World Cup starting in England on September 18, Burger said his brush with death had made him more philosophical about his future.
"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."
South Africa have been drawn in Pool B at the 20-team World Cup alongside Japan, Samoa, Scotland and the United States.