On 14 April 1988 and 20 August 2005 fate grabbed the collars of two rugby players and condemned them to lives in wheelchairs.
Along with three other quadriplegics, these two Milnerton residents have been invited by the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Fund (the Springbok’s official charity) for the annual “For the Love of the Game Fundraising Banquet” on 25 September.
During the event that will be broadcast on Supersport 1, they will meet all their rugby playing heroes from South Africa and Australia.
TygerBurger used the opportunity to let Chris Labuschagne (42) and Vulisango Solomon (38) tell their heartbreaking stories, and by doing so, create awareness around this dangerous game.
One day in 1988 during training in a Northern Cape town the 15-year-old lock (Labuschagne) was practising “second phase” with his team-mates.
The coach decided to have one more go at perfecting the technique and from a line-out, Labuschagne grabbed the ball. His team-mates “binded” around him and then, as practised before, he fell to the ground in order to release the ball.
One of the defenders went over the loose ruck and landed on Labuschagne’s neck.

“I immediately heard that break, went numb and realised something was terribly wrong,” he remembers.

At that stage his team-mates were still fighting for the ball, but all Labuschagne could think of was trying to breathe while lying face-down on the grass.
“I was lying on top of the ball. They eventually rolled me onto my back and called the ambulance, but it took them a long time to get to the school due to all the flooding we had there that year.”
He was first rushed to the local hospital and then to Bloemfontein and a few days later to Pretoria, but by then it was obvious that Labuschagne had broken his neck.
He was told he broke some cervical vertebrae in his neck and would be paralysed from the neck down for the rest of his life.
Labuschagne credits his faith and support system of those around him for getting him through this traumatic period.
Since then he has regained about 70 % of movement in his arms, succeeded in getting a diploma in IT Technology and now works at T-Systems in Pinelands, happily married to his wife Natasha.
Solomon’s story to date has been less fortunate.
“I couldn’t believe it when they told me that I wouldn’t walk again … A social worker had to explain it to me. I was told not to worry, because the worry will kill me,” says the Eric Miles Cheshire Home for the Disabled resident.
The scrum collapsed onto the hooker’s neck during a club rugby match in 2005.
One of the only things Solomons can remember right after the tragedy was someone telling him that he “can’t wake up now” because they’re waiting for the ambulance.
Frozen images of the shock on other players’ faces still haunt him at night, however.
He could never return to his job in Epping and after the incident his days have been preoccupied with getting from A to B.
Both reckon it is vital that the public take heed and take whatever safety measures possible for everyone who plays rugby.
Creating awareness is partly what the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund is all about.
The fund implements initiatives to make the game safer and reduce the number of injuries taking place, while also offering help and hope to those rugby players suffer catastrophic and serious rugby injuries. “When tragedy strikes on the rugby field, the Players’ Fund steps in to help our fallen heroes,” says the Player’s Fund’s general manager, Gail Ross.
It currently supports 105 quadriplegics across South Africa.