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Joost is fighting on daily basis

MND-suffering former Springbok has team at Dubai Rugby Sevens

Gulf News

Dubai: South African rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen, who has motor neurone disease, is fighting every day, according to his brother Peter.

The 45-year-old former Springbok was given just two to five years to live six years ago, but continues to defy the odds.

His J9 Foundation is back to defend their veteran’s title at this weekend’s Dubai Rugby Sevens in order to raise awareness and funds to find a cure for the degenerative muscle-wasting disease.

Unlike previous years, Joost won’t be on the sidelines in Dubai as he is too ill to travel, but he is keeping in touch with the team via Whatsapp.

“His state of body is very weak but his emotions are strong,” said Peter, who helps to handle the foundation and is in Dubai with the team. “He talks to the guys via the Whatsapp group and sees the pictures and videos and replies using eye tracking, so he’s in the loop with everything.

“We take it day by day, he’s fighting every day,” he added of his brother’s condition. “It’s always emotional to be back at the sevens but we are looking forward to it, and we believe we have a team to defend the title, we’d like to get this one for Joost.

“It keeps him strong [winning the title]. That fighting spirit is still in him, he’s fighting this disease day to day, but to win and put his name down is important to him.”

Peter explained that Joost’s medical costs average 30,000 rand (Dh7,800) per month and that medical insurance in South Africa doesn’t cover the disease. None of the funds raised by the J9 Foundation go to Joost however, instead he helps proliferate the funds among fellow sufferers who are less fortunate in South Africa and across the world, with J9 offices also in Dubai and London.

“He doesn’t take a cent, this is his vision to help others and be part of a global community that helps fights the disease.”

As well as funds raised going towards helping sufferers they also go towards research for a cure.

“We hope and pray for a breakthrough. I believe they are close, 10 years ago scientists in Scotland said they were 6-9 years away from a cure and in America they said they were only four years away. It’s just a matter of when. Every second we live in hope.”

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Race winner Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas.