Children with life-threatening illnesses who are huge rugby fans got to meet their sports stars at the Cullinan Hotel last week.
The teams, which were taking part in the Cape Town Rugby Sevens at the Cape Town Stadium, were staying at the Southern Sun Waterfront, and used the facilities of the Cullinan to wind down and get their after-match massages.
The meeting was organised by Warren Solomons, owner of the Massagecru, a Century City-based company contracted to do the team’s massages.
Mr Solomons said coming from the poverty-stricken Manenberg, and being in the position he was in was a privilege, so this year, he decided to give back. He then contacted Reach for a Dream, an organisation which helps make dreams come true for children with life-threatening illnesses.
“A lot of these children will never have the opportunity to meet these people, and I felt that I could make it happen.
“Working with these sports players on an international level was my dream, so I wanted to make someone else’s dream come true. Reach for a Dream was always an organisation close to my heart, so I reached out to them.”
On Monday December 3, five little boys anxiously waited until the rugby players were done with their massages. The stars came to chat to the children and sign balls, sweaters, shorts items that they brought.
Among the children was De Wet Willemse, 12, from Kraaifontein, who has fanconi anemia, a disease that mainly affects the bone marrow and results in decreased production of all types of blood cells.
De Wet’s sister, Karli, 8, had saved his life when she donated bone marrow after his health deteriorated.
Their mother, Jonita, said Karli was 4 months old when she was tested and was a perfect match, but she was too small and the doctors wanted to wait until she was 5 years old, but then De Wet’s health took a turn for the worse, and they had to push the operation forward. “Karli was 4 years old when she became the youngest bone-marrow donor in Constantiaberg Hospital.”
Ms Willemse said she was “blessed” that everything worked out the way it did. “The children are both doing well. It’s amazing.”
She said her son was crazy about rugby. “He is so over the moon – he is just shy. He will never be able to play rugby, but he is a great spectator. He knows all the players,” she said. “It’s amazing that they get to meet their heroes.”
Cole McLoad,11, and Connor McCLeod, 13, from Belhar, came dressed in their SA Rugby gear, and got their balls signed.
Connor said he was very excited to meet the Blitzbokke. “We love sport, and our favourite sport is rugby.” Cole was too shy to speak and showed his excitement by smiling broadly.
The brothers are radio sports reporters at RX Radio, the Red Cross Children’s Hospital radio station for children, by children.
Rameez Gabier, 12, came all the way from Vredenburg to meet the players. “I am so happy. This is the first time I am meeting famous people,” said a shy Rameez.
Hugh Everson, the physiotherapist of the SA Rugby Sevens team, said the meeting was an awesome initiative. “These players have a busy schedule, but they will always make time to meet their young fans – it’s no effort for them. After all, it is through public support that they get a platform to do what they do.”
Christelle Gantz, a volunteer at Reach for a dream, said the children were chosen from a register, which they fill out and the staff identify their dreams according to that. The children chosen had dreams to meet the players.
“De Wet’s dream was to meet SA Rugby player Bryan Habana.”
She said the initiative was awesome, as so many children never get to meet the players or even go to games. “This really helped them forget their troubles and health issues for a day.”
Another volunteer, Eleanor Pretorius, said any child between the age of 3 and 18 years old who are terminally ill qualify to have a dream come true through the organisation. “It’s so heartwarming because we find that these children don’t even want big things. One wanted a Barbie with red hair, and another just wanted to bake cookies.”
Mr Solomons said he was very impressed and grateful that the meeting came together. “The fact that everyone came on board to make these children’s dreams come true is impressive.”