People often say tough times don’t last but tough people do, and that you succeed after a few unsuccessful tries in life. Luqmaan Ismail (25) from Cape Town is a former Lions rugby player and has had his fair share of setbacks he’s tackled.
“I was born in Kuilsriver with my oldest sister. I grew up in a household that had its own problems. My father was a Muslim when he came into the picture. He told my mother they didn’t have to split their religious ways if they got married, we could live in a multi-religious house rather,” he says.
Luq says things later took a turn for the worst.
“My father then started using weed and cocaine and became abusive towards us. When I was seven they got divorced, I then started living two lives: On Fridays I’d go to a mosque and on a Sunday to church. I was in a certain stage in my life where I didn’t know who I was praying to between Allah and God. He always told me ‘when you old enough I need you to make your own decision, I don’t want you to live two lives.’”
His father’s bad habits soon took a hard knock on them.
“My father almost killed us. He had this massive brick over my mom’s head about to hit her. My sister tried to stop it and I ran to the police station. He chased after me and that gave my sister a chance to cry for help. My father committed unfortunately suicide when I was only nine. He left lots of debts. His last words to me were ‘Look after your mother and your sister” Luq adds that they lost their house paying off his father’s debts.
“We lived on the streets for a week and a half. Seeing your teacher driving past you on the street corner and there’s nothing they could do to help hurt me. I felt embarrassed in a way.”
Ironically, he found peace in life when he started playing the physical and sometimes violent rugby.
“Stuff came my way. Luckily for me I had a gift. Rugby came to my rescue. I started playing at thirteen for the Western Province u13 team. I got a scholarship and that was the main challenge. The school I went to, Paarl Gimnasium, was predominantly white.
“I had to move to a hostel. I started getting bullied cos I was really thin. They dipped my head into the toilet more than four times. I was called racist names. When I was fourteen I told my mom I couldn’t take it anymore I was coming home. She told me to hang on, she really was the only support structure I had.”
Like he does on the sports field, Luq knew he first had to go through his opponents to make it to the finish line.
“At fifteen years I took a stand. I took one of the senior boys on, we had a small fight. The principal summoned us and I told him the exact slur word the boy had said to me. I told him if the school didn’t do anything then I’d report them to the newspapers. At 16 I played for the Western Province u16s and I think that’s where rugby changed my life. The Lions then signed me at sixteen for an after-school-contract.” Luq then decided he wanted to follow Christianity after, a move that tainted his relationship with his father’s family.
“I left school after matric at eighteen and left for Joburg. I played for Lions senior team. I lived for three years there, awesome time in my life, but it came with its challenges. I was living on my own, getting paid. I wasted my money and lost everything.”
As if that wasn’t hard enough, another hurdle tried to cripple him down.
“My mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer. That’s when I had to decide whether to continue playing in Joburg or go back to my mother. I was still studying education at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Mom got sick and we almost lost yet another house. I had depression. I tried committing suicide, I was in a comma for two months.”
Just like a rugby ball, you never know where Luq will land after hitting the ground.
“We needed money and my mother didn’t have a medical aid but another opportunity presented itself. My agent asked me to go play rugby in Scotland for a year-and- a-half in 2015. I did that and came back. I didn’t know what to do after coming back and that’s when I joined Laureus Sports Foundation’s CoolPlay organisation where we teach kids life skills through sports.”
Luq may no longer be playing professional rugby but he’s teaching the younger ones to keep their eyes on the ball.
“Rugby teaches us life skills cos it helps you appreciate team work and know that you need one another to make it. It also taught me there’ll always be challenges in life cos even when you play there are defenders who are stopping you from crossing the line.
“I realised the impact I could have as a former rugby player. I started living in 2016 with this work I’m doing. I use rugby to teach other kids they must do right by their parents. We give boxing and rugby programmes at a Juvenile school as well. The Juvenile school had the highest number of reformed boys last year after eight rugby players changed their lifestyles. If it wasn’t for Christ I wouldn’t be here today,” he credits his mother as well for being his support structure.
Luq wraps up the interview with a word of encouragement.
“The most difficult roads in life lead to the best success in life. The tough time will always be there, but through times they’ll be tough people as well. You’ll come out tougher,” he concludes.