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Elmé Kruger was one of the founding members of the first NSRI Lifeguard Unit established at Station 18 (Melkbosstrand) in 2017 and was recently asked to play for the Junior Springbok Women’s Rugby team.

Out on the field

On 18 August, Elmé Kruger was informed she would play as a Springbok in the game against Zimbabwe’s Junior Sables team in the curtain raiser to the Senior Women’s game against Spain at the Fanie du Toit Stadium in Potchefstroom the following day. “It was a big moment of relief,” she says. “The squad is made up of 26 players, but three were not going to make the cut. I kept asking myself, ‘Will I be one of those three?’” And when she knew she’d made the cut? “It was a wholesome moment for me. I was so grateful to my family. I realised I’m going to wear the jersey, and sing the anthem. There are no real words, except ‘this is real!’”

That reality hit home when Elmé and her teammates ran through the tunnel at the stadium and lined up to sing the National Anthem. “I thought, ‘This is SA Rugby!’ I could see my family in the stand. I was singing and crying and singing and crying,” she says. “I was on the bench for the first half, then early in the second half, the team manager said, ‘Elmé, you’re up!’ I thought, ‘What now? Am I going to be good enough?’ But as soon as I crossed the line, I focused and I knew what my job was and I went into autopilot. Your focus increases when you’re out there. You go out to perform. You switch on to ‘game mode’. I thought to myself, ‘This is your shot, do your best!’”

The team went on to beat their opponents 55-0.

A star is born

It might be surprising to learn that the 20-year-old’s love for rugby began in Dubai. But the sport is really big there, she says. Elmé grew up in Johannesburg and her family moved to the United Arab Emirates in 2013. There, she joined her school’s Under-11 Tag Rugby team. Her logic at the time: “I am South African, I should play rugby!”

She loved the game so much, she joined a rugby club and played for the full five years the family stayed abroad. “Rugby Sevens is very popular in Dubai, and this really inspired me. I realised I wanted to play rugby for South Africa,” Elmé says.

During that time, her family were her biggest cheerleaders (and they still are). Her dad played school and university rugby and was always able to give her plenty of valuable feedback. “My mom was my ‘uber’ and was always there to support me when I played. And my sister, who is also a crew member at Station 18, played rugby too. She really cemented my love for the game. She always encouraged me by saying, ‘Enjoy it, be happy!’”

Joining the NSRI

The family would spend their holidays in South Africa, one of which was roughly three months long one winter. During that holiday, Elmé decided to join Station 18 (Melkbosstrand). She was just 15 years old and keen to be a part of the Lifeguard Unit initiative that former station commander Rhine Barnes was starting up. Once the family moved back to South Africa permanently in 2018, she says it was “in full swing with the NSRI”. She did the necessary training and is now a qualified crew member.

For Elmé, volunteering offers a different picture of the world. “I enjoy the idea of stepping away from myself to help others. I move away from asking myself ‘How can I make my future better’ to doing something for someone else. It allows me to shift my focus.”

Former station commander Rhine Barnes says Elmé is well loved and respected at the station and as a lifeguard squad leader. “She takes her position seriously, by making sure that her squad is always performing at their best and proudly flying the NSRI flag. She certainly is a role model for many of our young crew members.”

The juggling act

Elmé is in her second year of studying Sports Science at Stellenbosch University, and plays for the Maties Women’s Rugby and Western Province Seniors teams. This means there is a lot on her plate. How does she juggle everything?

“Juggle is the right word,” she smiles. “There are always a lot of balls in the air! It’s about prioritising commitments. But it’s difficult to plan ahead, because usually these plans go out the window. There’s usually a lot of communication between the university and rugby management to keep things organised.”

What the future holds

“Women’s rugby is growing,” says Elmé. “And I do want to see how far I can chase this career. It all depends on being healthy and injury free. My dad always says, ‘Your career is only one tackle long.’ But if I can’t play, then I’d like to be involved in rugby coaching or management. It will always be a part of my life. I am everything rugby,” she says enthusiastically.

From everyone at the NSRI, we wish you well, Elmé. Keep flying the NSRI and Springbok flags high!

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