JD: From nightmare to dream come true
Cape Town - Stormers lock JD Schickerling came within two millimeters of paralysis in 2014 when he broke his neck in an U-21 game against the Blue Bulls at Loftus.
His fractured C4 and C5 vertebrae nearly cost him not only his rugby career, but his ability to walk.
Now, a year-and-a-half later, Schickerling is playing Super Rugby.
The 20-year-old came off the bench against the Bulls at Newlands on Saturday.
He was on the receiving end of a high tackle almost immediately, which made for a few nervous onlookers.
But just minutes after Schickerling had risen to his feet, he was at the heart of a lineout that is already a contender for rolling maul of the season as the Stormers powered their way to a bonus point win.
It has been a long road to recovery for Schickerling, and two operations later he views rugby ... and life ... differently.
"That’s one thing I learnt in life ... not to take things for granted. You have to use every opportunity that you get and just go full out," said Schickerling this week.
"I didn’t know if I would be able to play again until the doctor told me there was a chance if they did a second op ... so obviously I said ‘yes’ and I got a chance again."
The ordeal, and how close Schickerling came to a living nightmare, has been hard on his parents ... especially his mother.
"She was very scared at the beginning (of his return) ... any mother would be like that," he said.
"I actually got another high tackle in the Bulls game (on Saturday), and my mom told me she was very angry.
"She said that she doesn’t really want to come watch live now, she’d rather watch from the TV. It wasn’t very good for her ... both my parents went through a tough time with me but they stood by me."
Schickerling says the hardest aspect of returning to the game was getting in the right head space to take contact again.
"You know you broke your neck and now you have to get confidence going in with your head," he said.
"It was quite tough, but it’s just a mind-set that you have to change and just go for it."
There is a very clear desire in this youngster that is revealed through the passion with which he speaks about the game.
He is set to play behind the star second row pairing of Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit this season, but with his 21st birthday still three months away, the future is bright for Schickerling.
"I’ve watched JD even when he was a schoolboy ... he was a special athlete then," said Stormers forwards coach Russell Winter.
"I got goosies now listening to him speak about what he’s come back from.
"The contribution he’s made to me and to the team has been fantastic. He’s a great athlete and he’s going to go very far.
"I could carry on speaking about him for hours if you wanted me to ... all positive stuff."
For Schickerling, it is about enjoying each moment ... and he hasn't had many bigger than his Super Rugby debut.
"It was a very big privilege for me. It was a tough time for me just to get back onto the field. To get selected for the squad was something major for me ... it’s been a dream."
The Stormers take on the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein this Saturday.