TW - Mention of suicidal thoughts
It was just a quick peek at her phone while driving. A few seconds later, Tazmin Brits lay in her own blood with her car on top of her. She was thrown out of the windshield, and landed in the roadside gravel with a broken pelvis, dislocated hips, burst bladder, torn colon, and a completely shattered Olympic dream.
The gold medalist of the Javelin Throw in the 2007 World Youth Championships was not going to the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Fast forward a decade and slightly more, Brits will sing the national anthem with pride and tears, as she represents her country in their first-ever senior Cricket World Cup final on Sunday (February 26).
She is still an athlete. She is still fighting to beat the world, to be the best in the world. She is Tazmin Brits from South Africa and she doesn’t give up.
Tazmin, born in the mining town of Stilfontein, had inherited the sporting gene from her mother and father, who played Tennis and Rugby respectively. She got into Javelin throw at a very young age and turned out to be quite good at throwing metal spears across the green field.
She was so good that she was a Junior champion by 16. The next step was naturally the Olympics. But on that rotten night when she glanced at her phone while driving back from a party, her life imploded both literally and figuratively.
She woke up in the hospital unable to feel her body parts below her hip. But her ears were still working. She could hear her mum crying. She ended up spending three months in that hospital and came back home with titanium screws in her hips. Brits even then was crazy enough to think that she might make it to London. Her mind still knew how to throw a metal spear after all, and she knew she could coerce her body into agreement.
But London came and went. Her body had failed her. The javelin flew out of her life, and her tired mind spiraled. That was all she had done in her life so far. How could she leave it all there and move on? But life had to be lived. She took on work at a grocery store and as a waitress after her athletic career was done. However, her mental state didn’t get better. On the worst days, she even contemplated ending her life.
Tazmin Brits isn’t one to give up.
After another try at Javelin, she finally gave it up and committed to a new sport in her life - Cricket. Francois van der Merwe of the North Western University in Potchefstroom had a huge role to play in that. He worked hard and helped her focus on what she could achieve on this new path.
It all bore fruit when she started hitting runs at the provincial level and captained the Northwestern province team. The team dominated the domestic championship in South Africa, and Tazmin Brits became one of the best batters at the domestic level.
Less than seven years after her accident, she was making her T20 debut for South Africa against Bangladesh in 2018. But just like everything in her life before, she had to fight hard. Lizelle Lee and Laura Wolvaardt were doing really well for South Africa as openers, which was where Tazmin had her success as well.
She scored three fifties before the 2020 T20 WC, but couldn’t make it to the squad. She was only a late inclusion to the Proteas team in CWG games. By this time, she was contemplating moving out of a career in sports entirely, as she was spending more time at home than on the field.
However, things turned around for her again. She became a permanent feature in the opening spot for South Africa after Lizelle Lee’s retirement. By now, she has played 35 T20 games and has scored at an average of 30 and a strike rate of 101. Her last three innings - 45, 50* & 68 - came at a time when her team was on the verge of being ousted from the World Cup.
Her strong Javelin-trained shoulders power through the shots at such remarkable speeds that the ball races and flies off her bat, just like a javelin once used to do off her hands. The massive biceps not only reveal the strength in her arms but also hint at her past - athletics.
Player of the Match with an outstanding catch 🦸♀️— ICC (@ICC) February 24, 2023
This Tazmin Brits moment could be featured in your @0xFanCraze Crictos Collectible packs!
Visit https://t.co/8TpUHbQikC to own iconic moments from the @T20WorldCup. pic.twitter.com/iiDWhBa7av
However, it’s her fielding where her years of training and developed reflexes are flaunted the most. In the semifinals against England, when Alice Capsey mistimed a pull shot off Shabnam Ismail, Tazmin moved across at lightning speed, lowered her body while doing so, and caught the ball one-handed just inches off the ground. Later when asked, she would say that “I just reacted to it and it stuck”.
But nothing gets stuck just like that. It was due to her years of athletic training and inbuilt flexibility that even at 32, she fielded like a teenager. Her 4 catches that day were as match-winning for South Africa as her 68.
She might have left athletics to become a cricketer, but athletics hasn’t left her body. South Africa and Tazmin, are now in the finals of a World Cup because of that.
Tazmin got a tattoo of Olympic rings on her right bicep when she was a Javelin thrower to remind herself of her dream. She couldn’t be a world champion in Javelin. But now, she is part of the South African women’s team in a World Cup which is full of remarkable pioneering women like Marizanne Kapp and Shabnam Ismail. Each one of them has a story worth its own book.
Tazmin Brits is one of those stars now. So what if she couldn’t win the gold in Javelin? Her performance has allowed her country a chance at their first-ever cricket World Cup. All this was possible because, despite a broken body, her mind didn’t give up.
Post the semi-finals, she jokingly said about the Olympic rings on her arm in the press conference - “...but if we win the finals, yeah, I might have to put a Protea badge next to it”. As South Africa takes on Australia in the finals today, Tazmin would certainly hope to make an appointment with a tattoo artist very soon.
Always an athlete, now a cricketer, this is the story of Tazmin Brits who never gave up.
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