Oom Wes, the Olympian and the surgeon

Photographer and former picture editor for The Citizen, Wessel Oosthuizen, left, poses with former Springbok wing Ray Mordt, 21 August 2018, during the opening of Oosthuizen's exhibition titled "Sport: My passion, my love, my life". The exhibition features 138 photographs of significant sporting moments and greats, spanning over 56 years, all captured by Oosthuizen. It is on dislay at Sportpro SA / World of Rugby in Randburg for the next six weeks. Picture: Michel Bega

This week I witnessed how sport can inspire people, at the opening of former picture editor of The Citizen, Wessel Oosthuizen’s exhibition.

Former president Nelson Mandela was so right when he said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire and unite people in a way that little else does”.

This week I witnessed how sport can inspire people, at the opening of former picture editor of The Citizen Wessel Oosthuizen’s exhibition, “Sport: My passion, my love, my life”. The exhibition, which runs at Sportpro SA/World of Rugby in Randburg for six weeks, features 138 photographs spanning 56 years.

Go to Ellis Park on a Saturday afternoon and you will still see “Oom Wes” on the sidelines, covering a Lions rugby fixture.

There were plenty of big names at the opening – former Springbok wing Ray Mordt, Afrikaans singer Sonja Herholdt and former co-chairman of Codesa Judge Piet Schabort, to name just a few – but the heart-warming story of a Bulgarian Olympian gymnast Silvia Hutchinson, formerly Mitova, took centre stage.

Hutchinson, a five-time Bulgarian champion gymnast, broke her neck in a training accident just two months after competing at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, aged just 16.

“I was used to people asking for my autograph, but after the injury no one came to visit me,” said Hutchinson, who flew out from her home in Pottstown, Pennsylvania to be at the exhibition.

After the injury, Wessel was instrumental in arranging for Hutchinson to fly to South Africa, put her up in his house and introduced her to Dr Johan Wasserman, a Johannesburg neurosurgeon who helped her walk again through surgery, without charging a cent.

The exhibition includes three photographs of Hutchinson – one of her before the injury, one with a neck brace and one of her and the surgeon being reunited 15 years after he had given her a new lease on life. Tuesday’s reunion was just as emotional, with Wasserman, a giant of a man compared to Hutchinson, also present.

Yes, there’s so many other more publicised photographs that Wessel also captured over the years, including the famous photo of Springbok lock Frik du Preez “tackling” All Black Chris Laidlaw with a clenched left fist aimed at the scrumhalf’s head, in a 1970 Test match at Loftus Versfeld.

But perhaps none made such an impact as the story involving Hutchinson and Wasserman.

Trevor Stevens.

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