Reflections from IJR’s Executive Director, Stan Henkeman


On 13 February 2007, I had a heart transplant at the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town. This significant event marked the ending of one era and the beginning of another. There is understandably a fear of the unknown, the mysterious because it provokes anxiety and leaves us feeling out of control. My fear was not that I might die, but rather that I might have to live a sedentary and uneventful life. The beauty of having taken the difficult decision to venture into the unknown was that I quickly realised that when you allow fear to influence your decisions, you may be blind to the possibility of improvement from the debilitating reality that needs to change. I made the decision, and two years after the transplant I was awarded Protea Colours for Transplant Sports which allowed me to attend my first World Transplant Games in Australia in 2009.

2019 marked my sixth Games participation at the 22nd World Transplant Games in Newcastle in the United Kingdom. On Day 1 of the Track and Field competitions, I injured my left calf and had to make the difficult decision to withdraw from the Long Jump event. I managed, with amazing help from our Physios, to do the Ball Throw and 100m events with a painful calf. Overcoming the fear of further injury was rewarded by a Gold Medal in Ball Throw and a Silver in the 100m. Day 2 dawned with the swelling having gone down significantly for me to contemplate participation in the 200m sprint. I ran the race of my life on 23 August 2019 and achieved at least two significant milestones. One, I had overcome fear and was rewarded with the Gold Medal. Secondly, I managed to beat a competitor that had the better of me since 2009.

I see these experiences as metaphors for the country of my birth, South Africa. In 1994 we had a significant change of heart which improved prospects for most people. We have subsequently had our setbacks, and we are presently facing an enormous challenge regarding the struggling economy, fragile relations, political instability, etc. in other words, we have gone into spasm. Our challenge is to determine if we are going to choose fear over the vision of a better future, hopelessness over hope and resignation over getting up and do what needs to be done to become a winning nation.