Iglin Grobbelaar: “You can’t run from your disability”
Hit by a car at 11-years–old. Two broken vertebrae. Two broken ribs and a broken femur all equated to a 15% chance that Iglin Grobbelaar would ever walk again. In the years to come Grobbelaar has pieced together a remarkably successful life by drawing strength from a source no amount of trauma can break, the human spirit.
Growing up with a dad who was incredibly sporty, Grobbelaar found he had a natural talent for a host of sports from rugby and tennis to golf and cycling.
In his third ever Argus Cycle Tour Grobbelaar broke the 4-hour mark, a remarkable achievement for someone that was just 11-years-old at the time. But the sport which set him on the road to success and joy in his young life was the same sport which caused life to take unexpected turn.
“My disability stemmed from an accident which happened in a cycling race when I was 11-years-old. I ended up in front of an oncoming car and got smashed around in front of the car, underneath and out the back of the car,” recalls Grobbelaar.
You need a little good fortune to live to tell such a harrowing tale. Fortunately for Grobbelaar his father, a doctor, saw the horrific events unfold before springing into action.
“He went straight into doctor mode and stabilised me at the scene of the accident. I was paralysed from the neck down for about a month and three months later I walked out of hospital!”
The after-effects of the accident left Grobbelaar with just 50% physical functionality. Rather than dwell on the lack of ability in his left-arm and inability to rotate the arm for example, Grobbelaar set about adapting his technique across different sporting disciplines, doing so with notable success.
“I played provincial tennis even after the accident, serving one-handed. I played 1st-team tennis and golf. I also got back onto the bike and although I didn’t really compete as much as I did prior to the accident, I rode another Argus and 94.7.”
Impressive though these feats were, it was on the golf course that Grobbelaar truly distinguished himself. He burst onto the South African Disabled Golf stage with a 3rd place finish in his maiden event before back-to-back runners-up in 2007 and 2008. He finally kicked the door down in 2009 before completing a successful title defence in 2010.
“The win at Randpark was obviously very special but equally special are the friends I’ve made.
I’ve been fortunate to meet so many legends over the years: Chad Pfeifer, Juan Postigo, Josh Williams, all of those boys.
“Alongside the South Africans Nico Wentzel and Ben Van Zyl, those guys were just phenomenal humans. It’s a massive pleasure to have known them.”
Make no mistake, Grobbelaar’s success has been anything but easy. The spasticity which affects his left side means that hours before his tee-time he engages in slow, deliberate stretching of his left-arm and his back before a measured warm-up on the range during which he has to be careful not to over-exert his affected side.
Sound frustrating? Grobbelaar is philosophical about his situation, remarking that acceptance and positivity are crucial to navigating life with physical limitations.
“Frustration is a massive thing when you’re dealing with physical limitation. You can’t run away from your disability so you’ve got to accept it in some way and I think remaining positive is probably the key to it.”
Golf is the gift that keeps on giving and it’s given Grobbelaar more than just a post-accident competitive outlet but a career too. The Gauteng-born golfer is a qualified PGA Professional and has worked in golf for the better part of 13 years during which he’s gained experience in a number of different facets within the golf club environment.
The PGA gives you quite a broad spectrum career that you can go into and I did exactly that. I’ve been involved in golf clubs and the operations of golf clubs, running of shops, teaching and I think a lot of different valuable experiences have come my way over the past 12 or 13 years.
Today Grobbelaar spends his time teaching the game, something that brings him great joy.
“I think where I am teaching golf full time is definitely my happy place right now. I work with exceptional golfers and I work with start-out golfers. Here and there I teach a disabled golfer as well which is obviously very close to home and I like finding ways to accommodate limitation.”
Grobbelaar is also giving back to the SADGA as a mentor to Charles Williams who is studying towards his PGA degree which will no doubt positively impact Williams’ development considerably.
After a tough few years in which Grobbelaar has battled various injuries, most recently a right wrist fracture, he’s enjoying getting back to his roots in the game, competition.
Having held the first-round at the Nomads Kwa-Zulu Natal Disabled Open before ultimately finishing in second-place, the Les Autres golfer is hoping to nab a victory at the Metropolitan Disabled Open using an approach that served him well post-accident.
“I think putting a result on the card may be a little bit dangerous. I need to break the shackles on the ‘first-loser’ status so it would be nice to get a victory but I’ll take it one day at a time.”
Photo: Nic Bothma
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