Friday, August 3, 2007

Nothing is Impossible

Three years ago, one of the most athletic, competitive, world class rugby players of his generation retired prematurely after a bad car accident left him with a shattered knee. His name is Bobby Skinstad. He was in his early 20’s, Captain of the South African team, and the youngest, most attacking No. 8 on the scene. Two years ago, I was in my house in St. Tropez when the phone rang. It was Bobby, who had been given my number by All Blacks captain, Sean Fitzpatrick. Bobby was anxious to start a new life. Having had his own agency in South Africa, he was keen to hear what the future looked like in today’s advertising world and wanted some advice on how he should best go forward. I get plenty of phone calls like this from rugby players - all too few of which ever get followed up (by them!).

Anyway, I gave Bobby a few tasks to do and some questions to answer. Ten days later he was back on the phone with a set of very well thought through responses. It was obvious that even though he had retired from the game because of his injury, he was ready to commit himself to the hard yards needed to build a successful career. Saatchi & Saatchi and Bobby formed a joint venture called Esportif, designed to take a whole new look at sports marketing. During the course of this entrepreneurial adventure, Bob and I became friends, and I have come to admire his leadership, dedication, professionalism and eagerness to learn.

A couple of years later, Bob and Sean Fitzpatrick (universally known as Fitzy), came up to my old school, Lancaster Grammar, and held a Captain’s Dinner to raise funds for the school’s first 15 Tour of South Africa. They also coached the first 15 and second 15 sessions, and then ran a ‘coach the coach’ session for a bunch of school teachers around the Lancaster area. Lancaster Grammar had never seen the like. A Springbok and an All Blacks captain spreading the knowledge, and all through mateship and the love of rugby. I must admit a pretty big night followed, spearheaded by Colin Povey, ex Head Boy at Lancaster Grammar, ex MD of Carlsberg-Tetley, Director of Northampton Saints rugby, and CEO of Warwickshire County Cricket Club. He played water polo for England and probably drank a swimming pool full of Stella that night.

Last year, Bob called me again and said the World Cup was in his sights and dreams. His knee had recovered, and he was wondering whether he could regain his test place and represent South Africa in the Rugby World Cup. This kind of comeback is unheard of in professional rugby. Naturally, I thought it was a great idea! Bob went back to South Africa, dedicated himself to getting fit, and played in the Super 14. He then fought his way back onto the bench for South Africa and finally back on the team. He was then restored to the Captaincy shortly before he broke a rib. Last week he called me again from Johannesburg. He made the World Cup squad and will be representing South Africa in September.

Imagine it. The 2007 Rugby World Cup after four years out of the game. Let’s hope he goes all the way to October 20 and we get to see him run out on the Stade de France to face the All Blacks. It would be the ultimate Nothing is Impossible story.


Susan956 said...

A great story today of evolving dreams and wonderful returns. I very much like the fact you offered him some questions (tasks in part I assume) and gave him that path to show other aspects of what he could do.

Another great story is the current one on Rhain Davis..the 9 year old Aussie (UK are now claiming him :)) soccer player. I hope the story is still up but do watch the videos of this guy playing..talent with a capital 'T'. No wonder the scouts got excited and bravo for loving family to send along his tapes:,23599,22179653-2,00.html

I believe SA will face the AB on 20th. That final match will be stellar.

Michael Taylor said...

I was at that dinner at Lancaster Town Hall and was really bowled over by Bob. I asked him to sign a card for my pal Eddie Bredenhann who was due to be a Dad and is a proper South African rugby bloke. He went the extra mile and added a few nice touches.
What a great story.
I think it was the first time we met too. Thanks for doing the interviews and the speech since. Keep up the blog, great stuff.
Michael Taylor
Insider magazine, Manchester

Piotr Jakubowski said...

Oh the mysteries of human physical power never cease to amaze me. Whether it be the ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes who ran the 50/50/50 (50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states) to your friend Bob, who after a long break from Rugby due to injury can return to the highest tier.

This truly proves that Nothing is Impossible. And proves that the determination of the human mind and body is far beyond what any of us can fathom.

As Susan mentioned above, it's interesting that you offered him questions. I believe its this type of questioning that make people gauge what they really want to accomplish, as well as providing extra drive necessary to reach these goals.

the paper bicycle; Peter Scarks said...

I can see it now. A tight and brutal shot of Sinstad pushing up against an opponent. The dirt the sweat the grit all in the frame. Muscles tweaked to the edge and the close up of the knee. Then a fade to an egg in a vise. So many images of sports damage the game. So many people have lost their way. We are reminded, though that playing is as much about love (if not moreso) than watching. Loyalty beyond reason? There is no metric for genuine commitment.

Susan956 said...

And yet I know people who see sports say on TV and ONLY see alcohol advertising on the boards around the stands - and each time on a forum sport is mentioned they wax long and lyrical about this. I know others who only see burgeoning blow out salaries. I see Kevin inspired by stories of overcoming adversity and new application model approaches.

I always think it useful to be truly aware of adversarial/oppositional/different voices.

Susan956 said...

What about the spirit of this team who became ecstatic simply because their latest loss was not such a big loss as usual :),23599,22274066-2,00.html

Anonymous said...

Now Bob's in the final... but agianst England!