Parents are bellowing from the side-lines, but one dad’s voice rises above the rest. “Push, push! Well done, my boy!”
On the field, a feisty little boy in a rugby jersey heads for the goal line, four opponents in tow.
“Go, Josh! Well done!” his dad screams, getting even more excited when his son leaps to score a try.
It’s only when the boy gets up that you notice he’s not like all the other kids: he has a prosthesis. But that hasn’t stopped Josh Adam (8) scrumming, running, tackling and kicking with all the enthusiasm and skill of his friends in Gene Louw Primary School’s under-8 team.
Chester and Juanita are bursting with pride in their son when we chat to them in their home in Durbanville, Cape Town. Josh, who started playing mini rugby and cricket in Grade RR has already won a Player of the Match award this year.
“Joshie played very hard. He tackled well – he was hard on defence that day,” Chester grins, before turning to his son. “You had a good game, didn’t you?”
Josh nods. “Mmm, and I was covered in mud!”
So muddy in fact that he had to get into the car boot for the ride home, Juanita tells us with a laugh.
When Chester isn’t cheering on his son’s rugby, he runs an IT and auditing software business. Juanita, Josh’s personal videographer, is a financial controller for a wine estate.
Josh, who’s already played two matches earlier in the day, is an ace at passing the ball, and his drop-kicks are skilled.
For this little boy his prosthesis is just his other leg.
Juanita was 20 weeks pregnant when a scan showed something was wrong with the lower part of her baby’s right leg. “The bone at the back of his leg [fibula] wasn’t there.”
The diagnosis was similar to that of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius: fibular hemimelia, a birth defect where part or all of the fibula is missing.
The news was deeply upsetting. “We didn’t even know what the fibula was,” she recalls.
Their inquiries led them to Dr Ryno du Plessis, an orthopaedic surgeon at the nearby Mediclinic Louis Leipoldt, who has remained Josh’s doctor ever since. “He sketched out the entire situation and explained our options.”
The worried parents took the difficult decision to amputate rather than subject their son to the painful, exhausting process of trying to extend the bone.
“That would’ve meant one operation after another, and there was no guarantee it would’ve worked, either.”
Josh was 13 months old when a portion of his right bottom leg was amputated. This also enabled the surgeons to confirm he hadn’t had enough bone for a successful extension process.
“Basically, there was no ankle,” Chester explains.
“Despite that, it was an agonising decision, and of course there are all these emotions. We prayed and cried. The amputation itself was a challenge, but at least we knew what to expect and could prepare ourselves.”
Two months later, when he was 15 months old, Josh got his first prosthesis.
“The doctors recommended that he go through all his development phases with the different prostheses – it had to be part of his life from the beginning,” Juanita says.
She smiles at the memory. “It was quite the challenge to keep his leg on when he started crawling!
Then at 17 or 18 months, he started walking with it.
His parents find it incredible how well he gets along now. “We think it’s because he grew up with it,” Juanita says. “If he’d had the amputation when he was older, it would’ve been a different story.”
They raised him like they would’ve raised any other son. “We taught him, ‘If you can think it, you can do it.’ We don’t regard him as disabled.”
Chester says they don’t even really notice his prosthesis anymore. “And Joshie is the same about it.”
The little boy has been putting on his prosthesis by himself since he was four. “He showers by himself, dresses himself, does everything for himself,” Chester says. Then he gestures towards their youngest son, Dian (19 months). “It helped quite a bit when this one joined the family. That’s when Josh really started sorting himself out.”
Josh is a typical older brother; he even gave up his own room because he wanted to sleep with Dian in the nursery.
“He loves his brother a lot. He’s very protective over him and they enjoy playing together,” Chester says.
There are no set positions at the U8 level. Josh says he’d like to be a flyhalf, though his rugby hero is the Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx.
His favourite part of the sport? “Tackles . . . and tries!” And he doesn’t give a second thought to getting injured.
Josh is also a solid cricketer. “If I had to choose, I’d like to bat,” he says. He also took up tennis last year, and he’s quite skilled on his overboard and skateboard.
But there’s more to him than just sport – Josh scored full marks in a maths quiz. He has many friends at school and the other kids accept him as he is.
Another challenge is the fact that he’s still growing, Juanita says. “Depending on his growth, he gets a new prosthesis about once a year. But the feet are another matter. He needs a new foot about every three months because he literally runs through them. The prosthetist has started adding a durable layer to the bottom of the foot to strengthen it a little.”
Josh swims with his old leg – his previous prosthesis. It’s a little small, “but helps him get out of the pool himself and dive in with his friends”.
They don’t know how long he’ll be able to keep playing rugby with a prosthesis.
“We let him go as far as he can,” Chester says.
The whole family is proud of Josh’s attitude. “He does everything with so much enthusiasm,” grandma Trudie says.
Grandpa Kobus becomes emotional when he thinks back to those early days at the hospital. When Chester carried Josh into theatre for the amputation, Trudie and Kobus along with Josh’s other grandparents, Llewellyn and Lynette Adam, waited anxiously outside.
“But then the specialist came out and said, ‘You’re sitting here crying, but this little guy is going to outrun you one of these days,” Kobus recalls.
Josh’s parents often hear that their son is an inspiration to other children and their parents.
“I think the fact he does just about everything their children do gives them a different perspective,” Chester says proudly.
“We believe you have to embrace what you have, and he definitely does that.”