Written by: Karien Basson and Tanya Powell
Article source: JOY! Magazine

Daniel Johannes “Duane” Vermeulen is a South African professional rugby player. His nickname, given to him by fans, is “Thor” – the Norse god of thunder. He currently dons the green and gold for the South African national team and has been playing for Ulster in the United Rugby Championship since 2021.

It was a very special day in Duane’s life – the day he confessed his faith during his confirmation. It happened late in his life, in 2011, the year before he was to marry Ezél. “What is your testimony, Duane?” the reverend asked him. “Today I am here to testify and tell my story. I can declare: ‘I am Duane Vermeulen and I am a child of God. Without Him, nothing is possible.’”

A rough diamond
It was the hard Lowveld soil of Mbom-bela and the tough snow-covered grass in Touwsrivier, De Doorns, that shaped the young Duane Vermeulen from a rough diamond into South Africa’s own “Thor” in green and gold. He plays his heart out, leaves everything behind on the field, and never holds back, because that is what he saw in his father during the eight short years of life with him. His dad, André, played club rugby in his younger days and also played for Boland. He always tackled a task with vigour. This inspired the young Duane – a spitting image of his dad – to follow in his father’s footsteps. Duane inherited his dad’s athletic talent, and like his mother, wears his heart on his sleeve. He has never seen the point of holding back and not showing how he feels or being who he truly is. He is passionate in everything that he does, always! His mom, Estelien, took on the dual roles of both mother and father after the death of his dad. There was nothing that she could not do and, with the extra work she took on, she raised Duane and his little sister in a safe family environment. She leaned on a young Duane who had to grow up fast, who had to learn to endure, persist, and push through. He learnt about working hard and doing extra chores: from how to make his sister’s ponytails to cooking and doing housekeeping. Because that is what it takes and that is what a family does in difficult times. They stand together, work together, and play together.

Non-negotiable faith
It is the fundamental things in life that are non-negotiable for him: his faith in God, his relationship with the Lord (on and off the field), and the responsibility of the Springbok on his chest – for him, these carry weight. From the age of 19, God entrusted Duane with a definite role as a sports person for South Africa. The Lord entrusted him with prestige, but the pruning process would be hard and continuous. “A great responsibility comes with the role you receive. I think that was the most important process I had to go through, to know who I am and what I stand for. One cannot make a difference and carry responsibility if you cannot answer these questions honestly. It took me a while. The Lord and I had to work together in faith and trust, letting Him chisel away at my rough edges!”

Opportunities birthed from challenges
Every challenge leads to an opportunity. And even when the COVID storm played havoc with the planned calendars, it gave the Vermeulens a chance to regroup and to re-evaluate their dreams and ideas. “Every person experiences a stormy season in their life. For a long time, injury after injury was that season in my life – until I realised that every injury taught me more about myself and strengthened my relationships on all levels.”

Forced introspection
Prioritising COVID affected everyone, forcing introspection and asking hard questions. It forced Duane to ask, “Who am I, in character and as a human being, away from the sports field?” To the world, he is the most sought-after rugby player, with a string of achievements and awards, but to Ezél he is a husband and to his two sons, just their daddy. “I read wise words and it made me realise once again where I am currently in my life and where I would like to be. It says: ‘If you die tonight, your employer will advertise to fill your position by the end of the month, but your loved ones, family, and friends would miss you forever. Do not get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”

Making the Father proud
The giant in front of this young David was defeated. The burden on his shoulders less. After the World Cup final in 2019, Matthew Proudfoot pulled him closer, hugged him, and whispered these words. Duane no longer needed to impress, he is everything a sportsman, father, husband, friend, and son could dream to be. His father would have been proud. His heavenly Father is proud. And now he knows, that is enough.

Duane’s message to South Africa
Regardless of how big or how small the battle ahead of you is; you and the One who made you can make a difference. Believe in yourself and trust in your Creator. There are valuable words that I read one day and they stay with me, “Your magnificence is your light, the light that you were born into this life to shine. It is uniquely yours and you are here to express the magnificence that is uniquely you; to be powerful beyond measure.”

This shortened extract is one of many powerful features from LISTEN. God’s voice in my life. Buy your copy of this stunning book today.

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Date published: 01/11/2023
Feature image: Johan Orton Photography | @ortonmediaphoto

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