The Hack: Honouring a fallen hero

Be honest, would you have cared about the J-Bay Open had it not been for the action on the final day involving an Australian and a shark?

Did you even know the event was happening? As a Joburger the closest thing to a current is the wave pool at Wild Waters in Boksburg. The next best is the Valley of the Waves at Sun City 160-odd kilometres away.

But thanks to the internet and the power of social media we were all left in shock and awe as the videos of Mick Fanning’s brush with the creature of the deep popped up. My Facebook was full of links, Twitter abuzz.

Then the memes came, as they always do in the aftermath of a newsworthy event, and we could chuckle without guilt given that Fanning had come away unscathed. He got lucky and he knows it.

But the shocking news wouldn’t end there as social media once again informed me of an incident except that this one was a little bit closer to home given that it involved a school mate who tragically passed away while playing the sport he loved.

He was one of the good guys – a gentleman and a scholar – who had used his Facebook  and Instagram to share the things he loved, friends, family, his girlfriend, his passion for engineering, and an undying love for hockey.

The pages surrounding this column are saved for the high-profile sportsmen and women who possess enough talent – and are privileged enough – to pursue professional careers but sport runs deeper than that.

There are unsung heroes, media officers, kit managers and guys like Stu Hoepper who turn out for their clubs on a weekly basis, paying their subs and keeping their teams and camaraderie going. For a guy who always seemed to be in good spirits it was what he lived for. Hockey was a release, an opportunity to foster relationships and share a laugh with mates.

I had the privilege of sharing the astroturf with Hoepps on a number of occasions, he’d often help out the mighty third side at our alma mater when we were desperately short of players. He was eager to take his place among the defence and unleash monster tackles on unsuspecting opponents.

But he always did it in the very best of competitive spirits. He wanted to win, as everyone does, but he always played fair. And always offered a handshake afterwards or a hand to help you up off the astro after a tumble or particularly strenuous training session.

The fondness for his chosen sport continued for years after school and perhaps there is some solace for his loved ones in that he passed on while doing the thing he loved. My sincere condolences to them. RIP Hoepps.

The past few days have offered plenty to ponder. They usually do in these circumstances. I’m sure that Fanning, having safely returned to his homeland, has relived the moment and thought of what might have been. How lucky is he to have another opportunity to paddle out into the break.

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