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Love for sport led to cricketing

A former learner of Hottentots-Holland High School who played girls’ cricket for Boland in age group level and went on to become the manager of the Western Province under-19 and senior women’s teams, is relishing her career at the top of women’s cricket in the province.

Gabi-Lee van der Westhuizen has spent eight seasons with WP women’s cricket, with five T20 and five 50 over Cricket South Africa (CSA) national titles.

In an interview with DistrictMail, Van der Westhuizen provided insight into her everyday life, her background and journey so far.

Born in Cape Town, she spent her early childhood mainly in Athlone and Wynberg, attending creche and living with her grandparents. She attended Tuscany Glen Primary School in Blue Downs and moved to Strand in 2002. She then attended Hottentots-Holland High School and matriculated in 2008.

These days she resides in the southern suburbs, closer to work.

Van der Westhuizen has since achieved an honours degree in sports science from the University of the Western Cape.

“I have a huge love for sport, high-performance sport in particular. I always wanted to be part of athletics and team sport, growing and excelling in tandem. I am currently doing my masters in sports science, focusing on mental skills training and coaching. I am extremely passionate about my work and very grateful for the opportunities to be involved.”

Asked how her interest in sport was sparked, particularly in cricket, Van der Westhuizen said as a little girl she was always found herself playing outside.

“Playing soccer, cricket, whatever the feeling was on that day, I was there. My mother was a softball and hockey player. I grew up on the sports field, night and day. If it wasn’t match day on Saturday afternoon, I would go with her to her field training in the week. As I grew up I started playing sport at school; at primary school I played mini-cricket, table tennis, hockey and volleyball.

“I went on to high school and there was a girls’ cricket team, and so it began. I played for the school and then made the Boland girls under-16 and under-19 team. In between the cricket seasons I also played hockey; my mother played club hockey and I joined her and the masters team. This was probably the turning point in my life as I learnt so much from those experienced players. For me nothing beats experience, which teaches one the game. I really started to love and enjoy sports from this point on, as I started to understand everything so much better.”

She also shared the story of her path towards being appointed manager of the Western Province under-19 and senior women’s teams.

“Not many people know this, but my Boland under-16 and under-19 coach, the late Cobus Roodt, was the WP senior women’s coach in 2012-’13. After I graduated, I paid him and the team a visit during their match against SWD and I told him all I had learnt and what I planned to do. He was looking for a trainer, so I volunteered my services and skills to the team to gain experience and be part of something, which is what I had always wanted. The team did not have a trainer or manager, and that’s how the journey began. At the time, Prof André Odendaal (CEO) and Nabiel Dien, general manger of WPCA, were very pleased with my inclusion and I was happy to be part of the team – I was then appointed. As for the under-19s, I applied for the post as manager when coach Cobus was appointed coach, for we worked very well together. Now, with Claire Terblanche as head coach, I have been her right hand these past two seasons and we are going strong.”

When it comes to balancing studies and work Van der Westhuizen admits it can be extremely difficult.

“My work is quite demanding and, over the years, I have had to work hard so I could learn to work smart; because the day is so unpredictable at times, one always needs to be ready. I try to have a well planned and balanced lifestyle; I need to know what my week will be like a week before the time, which allows me to fit in the studies, gym time and me time.”

Speaking of the current lockdown, she said for now one can only prepare for a return to training.

“We have designed programmes for the players to follow during lockdown to stay in top shape. The under-19s have their national week coming up in September, so we just need to keep them up to date with their training programmes at home. For me, I have been working on the studies and keeping up to date with work as well.”

Van der Westhuizen’s advice to girls who would like to follow a similar career path is “start and be committed”.

“It is far easier to work through the difficulties and challenges in the way than to stop and restart. The start is always the biggest hurdle to overcome, then it’s all about staying motivated and maintaining a consistent work ethic. Never give up.”

Van der Westhuizen says her own challenges included things such as time management. “Sometimes you feel as if there are not enough hours in the day to do what you need to do. Then you get the long days and sacrifices that go with it. Being consistent with your values and principles, and staying true to yourself, is probably the toughest challenge.

“Daily, you’ll have situations when you ask yourself ‘how do I get through this?’ because they just seem impossible. You have unscheduled meetings you need to attend, or you need to do a training session, and once you think you’ve made it through the day, then you have to sit with the books.

“But you push through – you pray and work through it. You have to believe it will work out. Often, it’s your mindset about the issue more than the issue itself that you need to overcome. You will get through it, just never give up . . .”

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