Worcester Warriors vice-captain GJ van Velze feared his career was over following a concussion injury in the opening game of the 2016/17 season.
The number eight clashed with Saracens flanker Michael Rhodes at Twickenham in a seemingly harmless collision – but it turned out to be significantly more – as Van Velze was forced out of action for the whole season.
He said: “I thought, ‘Is this how my career’s going to end?’ I started playing rugby when I was seven. Was it going to suddenly end because of a body-check at Twickenham?’
“It all happened when I ran a short line and was body-checked but it wasn’t enough to knock me out. I had a bit of a whiplash and then, at the next ruck, I had this throbbing headache. Four weeks later, I was still being told to stay at home.
“In these tough times you sometimes question yourself if you’re going to play again.
“The doctors weren’t sure what was causing the symptoms but after a number of tests they identified that I damaged my eye and ear canal through head trauma. This made it difficult for me to keep my balance. I could not stand on one leg with my eyes closed.
“Eventually I got diagnosed with vestibular problems. The impact against Saracens was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. I worked extremely hard with the medical staff and especially with Julie Hayton (Warriors Acting Head of Medical) on a number of weird and fun exercises to get me back to feeling normal again over the next six months.”
Van Velze finally recovered from his concussion during the summer and passed his return to play protocol on June 17, 2017.
The South African-born back row made his return to action at the start of the 2017/18 campaign and recently revealed what kept him sane during his lengthy time away from the game.
He explained: “It felt like a seven-month hangover. I wasn’t allowed to do anything for the first four months. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV, read, use my phone or drive. I fell in love with audiobooks, podcasts and found myself a DIY project where I built a desk out of copper tubing and plywood
“My next venture was setting up a handmade footwear business called Van Velze and Smith Superior Leather which will launch in early November. The idea is to sell classic handcrafted leather boots and for every boot sold I will give away a pair of sports footwear to aspiring youngsters.”
Alongside his shoe business, Van Velze took a lambing hobby to the next level with the help of his good friend James Wilson, turning it into a small-scale business, selling meat to friends, teammates and family.
And he revealed how his hobby has now grown into much more.
He continued: “This was made possible by the infrastructure on the farm and James, and it has grown at a fast pace. We set up spreadsheets to monitor dentistry records, weight, feeding habits, birth rates and medical issues.
“Now we’ve got 22 breeding ewes and 35 lambs which are fattening up. Without James this would not have been possible but thanks to the Farmers Weekly magazine and a few YouTube guides, this has kept me very busy.”
Van Velze’s lamb business (Little Pretoria) is now booming in which he’s been able to sell to the public as well as those who are close to him. To find out more click here.
Now back in the thick of the action, Van Velze has started all six of Warriors’ games so far this season.
And he is fully focused on the task at hand as Warriors look to get some wins on the board.
He added: “It’s great to be back playing regularly. I’ve really missed it. It hasn’t been the start we hoped for but we’ve got a great group of players and we’re confident we can turn things around.”