SA Jewish sportsmen in healing hands

  • EvanSpeechley
On Sunday night, Evan Speechly, one of South Africa’s leading physiotherapists, will be jetting off to the European Maccabi Games in Budapest as part of the support staff for the South African team.
by LUKE ALFRED | Jul 25, 2019

This will be Speechly’s third tour of duty for Maccabi, a chance not only to mend and heal, but an opportunity to make friends and renew acquaintances.

Speechly has been getting around, consulting to the Zimbabwe Cricket Union on Zimbabwe’s tour of the Netherlands recently, and then spending “four beautiful days” as a guest of Dimension Data’s medical team on the Tour de France.

He had what he calls “a magical Sunday” two weeks ago, when he saw the stage won by South Africa’s Daryl Impey from the Tour’s helicopter in the hill country outside of Toulouse. “A VIP couldn’t take his seat in the chopper, so one was free,” he says. “I had the chance to go up on what turned out to be a wonderful afternoon. We came down, and I spent the rest of the day watching Wimbledon and the World Cup final at Lord’s – it was the perfect day.”

On the one hand, Speechly puts such perfection down to luck. “Luck comes to me. I can’t say if luck always comes to others, but it definitely comes to me,” says the man who worked tirelessly behind-the-scenes in the weeks prior to the Boks’ 1995 World Cup win.

He was there when Hennie le Roux famously put his cap on Madiba’s head at Silvermine, and was close by when Hannes Strydom was so badly gashed by the Canadians in the infamous “Battle of Boet Erasmus” that Strydom’s wife took one look at him and fainted.

On the other hand, Speechly dismisses the notion of luck, preferring to talk about optimism and a positive mindset, believing that attitude has an important role to play in the healing process. “Being positive helps to make someone better,” he says. “You can’t learn it – but being positive and optimistic is definitely a help to healing.”

Heading to Hungary is, in a sense, a journey back to basics for Speechly. He’ll be working mainly with rugby players in a four-person medical team at the games, but that’s less important than the slightly diminished scale of what he’ll be doing.

In Budapest, he’ll be working with ordinary sportsmen and women with day jobs and a sense of perspective, folk who understand sport’s role in the larger scheme of things. This is something he enjoys. “If I was to work with prima donna sportsmen all the time I’d go mad,” he says with a chuckle. “The nice thing is that we deal with all kinds of injuries, from the young and the old to the veterans and what-not, so there’s variation. We don’t fix people – we guide the healing process.

“I tell people that it’s a game of snakes and ladders. It’s a process. Sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down.”

Not only has Speechly got up close and personal with some of the world’s leading cyclists and rugby players, he’s dealt with some of contemporary cricket’s greatest superstars.

The Indians, Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, and Virat Kohli number among his patients, and he’s also been exposed to AB de Villiers through his 12-year-long association with the Indian Premier League’s (IPL’s) Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB).

“Despite having some of the best players in the world at the RCB, we still haven’t won the IPL, so you have to take my good luck thing with a slight pinch of salt,” he says in that down-to-earth way of his. “So maybe I’m lucky but, then again, maybe I’m not.”

When asked to detail a particularly troublesome or challenging injury, Speechly stays with the RCB. He names Dale Steyn’s recent shoulder injury as something which not only confounded him, but mystified others, as it kept the “Phalaborwa Express” out of the World Cup.

“It started as a bit of a shoulder niggle,” he says. “Dale played in the first two RCB matches, and did well. On the Monday, his shoulder was fine, but as things progressed, it just became one of those horrible things that we couldn’t quite sort out, and obviously put his World Cup plans in jeopardy.”

The Sevens and 15s Maccabi rugby teams that Speechly will be helping in Hungary have a proud recent tradition to uphold. In the 2017 Maccabiah, the Sevens won gold while the 15s bagged silver, a far cry from the under-achieving sides that he accompanied to his two games so far – in 2009 and 2011.

With such a heightened sense of expectation, he’ll have his work cut out for him, but Speechly has never shied away from getting stuck in. He’s a hands-on kind of guy, after all.

* Israel’s under-20 basketball team held their European title on Sunday, beating Spain 92-84 at the Shlomo Group Arena in Tel Aviv to secure their second European title in a row. They have now reached three consecutive age-group finals, losing in 2017 but winning last year. Deni Avdija, their leading scorer in the tournament as a whole, scored 23 points in Sunday’s final to help his side to victory.


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