Christopher Reeve once wrote that a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere in spite of overwhelming obstacles. Though posterity will never remember Lucas “Rhoo” as ordinary, it is his heroism that will echo in history’s halls in a way that no medal and trophy can.
Although, the man named Lucas Radebe has amassed many honours and accolades during his career as passionate, trailblazing soccer player, it is his bravery and work off the pitch that deserves special mention.
Growing up in the conflict-stricken township of Soweto, where education was seen as the only way out of poverty, Lucas listened to the call of his passion – football. Having being scouted and signed to Kaizer Chiefs at a young age, and then later being bought by Leeds United and finding himself battling homesickness, unending cold, wet, Britain weather and a demanding manager, Lucas found himself with his back against the wall and tempted to return home to South Africa, to a world that was familiar to him.
He didn’t. With the tenacity and staying power that contributed to his worldwide success as a football player, Rhoo stayed, and Rhoo fought. He adapted, and then he thrived.
His biggest success, and what would soon be his most heartbreaking loss, was meeting and marrying his wife, Feziwe. After growing their family with two boys, Feziwe developed cancer, to which she lost her battle and succumbed to in 2008. After summiting many a mountain and slaying many a dragon in his football career, it was with this life-changing event that Lucas “The Chief” Radebe really had his mettle tested. He found himself grief-stricken in a foreign country, having lost the woman to which he credited his success to, and raising two boys alone.
He had to choose his reality. Buckle and eventually break under the heartbreak, or choose strength – choose life. The hero chose life. He chose awe-inspiring bravery. He chose philanthropy; he chose to be a hand of hope where it was desperately needed. He has been an ambassador for FIFA for SOS Children’s Villages, the Hospice Palliative Care Association Ambassador for South Africa, and has been involved in the Reach for a Dream Foundation.
And so all the glorious displays of footballing excellence that earned him respect at home, internationally, and even from the Father of the Nation Nelson Mandela paled in comparison to the display of bravery, heroism and selflessness when Lucas Radebe faced his biggest life challenge. And that is the stuff that heroes are made of.