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Joe van Niekerk is barely recognisable after years in Costa Rican jungle

By Ian Cameron
Joe van Niekerk in 2010 (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Once he was he rampaging through opposition defensive lines for a living, but now the only thing former Springbok back row Joe van Niekerk crashes throw is the dense foliage of the Costa Rican jungle.

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Van Niekerk has taken the road less travelled in retirement and now calls an organic farm in the central American country his home.

The 6’4 41-year-old has shed 15kgs of bodyweight and looks a world away from the 108kg forward that starred as a captain of Toulon in the south of France just eight years ago. He runs the organic farm and a spiritual retreat and says he has found peace after questioning his identity after retiring.

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Rugby fans could easily take a glance at the pictures posted on the Rama Organica on Instagram and not recognize ‘Big Joe’ as he was once known. His transformation is quite dramatic.

 

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Guardian journalist Jonathan Drennan caught up with the former Springbok star, who seems to have found his true calling after years on the road in a campervan after retiring from professional rugby in 2014.

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His physical change has caused a stir back in South Africa.

“South Africa is crazy about their rugby and, even though I’d been out of the game for a while, someone popped up with this image of me where I looked a lot different and had lost around 15kg of weight,” told The Guardian. “During those two years, I had experienced so many shifts and really was very happy about where I was. People could say whatever they wanted. I didn’t take any of it to heart. I just understood that they were curious. Even if they said unkind things, I didn’t mind. It was a big shock to some of my closest friends, and even my mum to see me so different physically, but the change has led to me building even closer bonds with them.”

A star of the 2003 Rugby World Cup, Van Niekerk revealed that he spent 2 years in France after retirement where he reinvented himself away from the sport, which was followed by a global campervan trip that would eventually lead him to Costa Rica.

 

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A post shared by Rama Organica (@ramaorganica)

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“Ultimately this idea led me to Costa Rica, where we purchased a 25-hectare organic farm. We organise different transformational journeys for people and, honestly, I can’t tell you the joy it brings. When you see someone arrive here tired mentally and physically and then leave revitalised, I realise I am in the right place.”

He looks very much the spiritual guru and a man who has found his true calling. More power to him.

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