When Caledon’s Ashwin Willemse was a teenager, he saw no real future for himself. He was a poor kid living in a single parent home and the only future for him was the violence and poverty that surrounded him. However, there was always something that shone bright within him, and it is that brightness that saw the Wits University student escape poverty, become a celebrated rugby player and graduate with a Masters Degree in Entrepreneurship & New Venture Creation, cum laude.
Now, for those of you who have forgotten what cum laude is, it simply means that Ashwin graduated with an A aggregate. Doing a masters is already hard but working while you are doing it and scoring an A aggregate, is an achievement that any parent would brag about for the next 40 years.
Ashwin says that had it not been for the love and support of his family, he might not have made it as far as he had. His grandparents had always encouraged him to dream big and his mom loved him unconditionally. His dad left when he was two, leaving his mom to struggle financially. He says that it was this event that led him to feel angry all the time and mix with the wrong crowd. Many of his friends ended up being shot which made him realise that he needs to stop being angry and start moving forward.
Ashwin went on to be part of the team that took gold at the IRB Under-21 World Cup after which he joined the Lions. In 2003, at the age of 22, Ashwin was named SA Rugby Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and the Players’ Player of the Year. He played in two Rugby World Cups and was part of the squad that took the Cup in 2007. After retiring from rugby, he became a beloved television rugby commentator and analyst.
As for the masters, he is the first person in his family to get a university degree. He wanted to be an example to his family by showing them that having an education is important. He is however, not done yet. His next challenge will be to complete his PhD. We look forward to when we will be writing about a certain rugby player that goes by the name, Dr. Willemse.
Note: Ashwin’s life was filled with immense tragedy, the kind of tragedy that could fill a book. In fact, it did fill a book. He is also the author of the book, ‘Rugby Changed my World: The Ashwin Willemse Story’, which he co-wrote with author and television personality, Heindrich Wyngaard. CK recommends this book to any kid that is caught up in the cycle of violence, depression, gangsterism and drugs. This is a remarkable story of a kid that believed that he would become nothing and instead, became everything.