Life is pretty busy for the Claassens family. Busy, but happy. With five (yes, five) young children excitedly running around, there is definitely no shortage of laughter, challenges and love. We chatted to former Springbok and Sharks rugby player Michael at their Zimbali home.
It’s quite remarkable watching the Claassens brood navigate their way around. On the day of our photo shoot, they arrive all piled onto a golf cart, beautifully turned out in white outfits. The eldest, pretty six-year-old Jóco, greets each of us confidently with a big smile and a hug, and her four younger siblings (two sets of pigeon pair twins) quickly follow suit. It’s hard not to be impressed.
The former Springbok, his wife Helen and their children have lived in Ballito for the past four years. Michel played professional rugby for 15 years, eight of those overseas, and finished his career with the Sharks in 2018.
One of five siblings himself, Michael grew up in Kroonstad in the Free State. After school he studied Accounting at the University of Free State in Bloemfontein. He and Helen started dating when they were 12 years old. “We grew up together and went to the same primary school. We got married in Kroonstad because we both have such fond memories and our families still live there.”
The scrum half started his professional rugby career with the Cheetahs in 2003 and made his début for the Springboks in 2004. He went on to play eight caps for the Boks, before moving to Bath in the United Kingdom in 2007 where he spent six years. After that Michael played in Toulon, France for two years until 2015 when he moved back to South Africa to play for the Sharks.
His biggest highlights in his professional rugby career, Michael says, remain the day he made his début off the bench for the Springboks against Wales in 2004 and his first start for the Springboks, also again against Wales, the following year.
Now an Umhlanga-based financial planner by profession, Michael’s life is full beyond measure. Helen, he says, always wanted a big family, but there was a stage in their lives when they didn’t think that would be a possibility.
They struggled for many years, undergoing various fertility treatments, before finally conceiving their eldest daughter seven years after they got married. “It was a long journey and we were very fortunate to have Joco,” says Michael. Then, a year later, after stopping all treatments, Helen fell pregnant again, this time with twins, Michael and Anick. Remarkably, two years after that, they were blessed with another natural pregnancy and two more babies, Teagen and Beauden.
“Helen always said she wanted five kids and I guess God answered her prayers. Both sets of twins came completely unexpectedly.”
Nowadays most of their time is spent occupying and entertaining the kids, with loads of time spent on the beach, either in the early mornings or late afternoons.
Asked what life is really like with five young children, Michael says, “well, it’s very interesting to say the least. Our days are very long and our nights are extremely short! Our lives are filled with lots of laughter and giggles, as well as tears and sibling fights, but we wouldn’t change it for anything. Our hearts are full.”
Helen agrees, saying, “it was such a huge honour to witness Michael’s achievements, but nothing gets close to experiencing the joy of these five special souls now.”
We asked the Claassens what they would be doing to celebrate Christmas this year. “We celebrate Christmas knowing it’s all about Jesus. Christmas Eve we will have a cooked meal and hand out presents and on Christmas Day we will celebrate with a braai or making pizzas together as a family.”
Text: Leah Shone | Photographs: Chris Allan Photo