How Springboks’ Summer of 95 Inspired Habana’s Dreams

June 24, 1995. Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg. Twelve-year-old Bryan Habana soaks it all in. The noise and colour of 60,000 fans. Nelson Mandela presenting Springboks captain Francois Pienaar with the trophy after their historic 15-12 victory over New Zealand. The day sport became a symbol of unification for a divided nation.
“I was one of the fortunate 60-odd thousand at Ellis Park that day,” recalls Habana, the South African rugby icon who will take part in the Laureus Challenge 2022, presented by Sierra Space. From November 14-19, Habana will join 99 inspirational fundraisers on a 100km trek through the UAE in co-operation with commercial space company Sierra Space.
Sierra Space’s latest campaign, ‘Dreams Worth Chasing’, could be the headline for his own journey. It’s about dreaming big – and Habana’s dream was born across that memorable summer in 1995.  
“It actually didn't start at Ellis Park, it began seven weeks prior,” said Habana. “My dad took me out of school for the first time ever. We drove from Johannesburg to Cape Town to watch the opening game of the Rugby World Cup when South Africa beat Australia, the-then world champions.
“I didn't really understand the game. I just saw 30 guys bashing each other. I said, ‘I'm very small, I'm not quite sure I want to do this, dad’. But just seeing the joy, the passion, the coming together of various cultures – I went on that journey. I was also at the quarter-final, when Chester Williams scored four tries against Samoa.
“We then drove down as a family to Durban for the semi-final. And then Ellis Park on June 24. What an epic moment to have as part of my journey. It was a watershed moment in my life.”
Twelve years on, the wide-eyed kid who witnessed the ultimate example of sport breaking down barriers would lift the same trophy as part of the winning Springboks team at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. “In 2005 I got to meet Nelson Mandela for the first time,” explained Habana. “And in 2007 I got to win the World Cup and come back on a bus tour with the trophy to see black kids in the rural townships running a kilometre or so behind the bus – to get a glimpse of their heroes, to get a glimpse of the trophy but to get a glimpse of hope. We’re very fortunate that sport has had such a monumental impact in our country.”
The 2022 Laureus Challenge starts in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve before climbing into the Hatta Mountains and crossing the picturesque wadis (valleys) of the Sharjah Emirate. Habana was newly retired when he took on the 2019 Challenge through the Draksenberg Mountains in his native South Africa.
“I had no concept of what a profound impact those four days would have on me; no understanding of the incredible bonds and friendships that would be formed,” he reflects. “The first day we walked for over 11 hours, just under 40 kilometres, up and down mountains. We left in the darkness and arrived in the darkness but the resilience and the fighting spirit I saw from everyone that day was remarkable. I'm extremely grateful to have been a part of it and to have raised a huge amount of money for Laureus Sport for Good.”
The experience of 2019 will stand Habana in good stead for the forthcoming challenge – where he will be joined by fellow Laureus Academy members Steve Waugh, the Australian cricket legend, Nawal El Moutawakel, the former 400m hurdler who made history in 1984 when she became the first Moroccan, African and Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal, and Olympic cycling great Chris Hoy. The group will also be accompanied by 100 Challengers, all of whom will be raising money for Laureus Sport for Good.
“Mentally, I'm where I want to be, but physically I’m a little off where I was before the 2019 Challenge,” he added. “I’m heading to Dubai on business ahead of the walk and my tactic is to do some scouting. I’ve heard that the mountainous part of the trek is very demanding so I might need to get on a treadmill more between now and then. It’s about showing what Laureus Sport for Good is all about and raising money. I’m extremely excited.”

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