A long haul flight on your way to a Test debut can feel like it lasts forever, especially if that first appearance for your country was the a culmination of a lifetime of hard work and sacrifices.
Just ask Travis Ismaiel, who travelled to the USA (via Addis Ababa) in 2018 for his Springbok debut (against Wales) at the Robert F Kennedy Stadium in Washington, DC, a first cap that was made even more memorable with a Test try for the former Junior Springbok winger.
Fast forward to almost five years later and Ismaiel is again heading west and Stateside with another dream to fulfil, this time to earn his Springbok Sevens colours on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.
The rocky road the 30-year-old had to endure since that afternoon in 2018 is well documented, his determination to get back to playing rugby again, perhaps not so much. But, said Ismaiel upon departure from Cape Town to Los Angeles (via New York), this trip is as meaningful as that first one on his way to a Springbok debut.
“The previous time, making my Bok debut was very special as it was what I always strived for and wanted to do my whole rugby career,” said Ismaiel, a former Vodacom Bulls player who also represented Harlequins in the English Premiership in 2019.
“This time, travelling to Los Angeles with the Blitzboks, means as much to be honest, because I never thought it would be possible after my shoulder injury.”
A shoulder injury, serious enough to end his career in fifteens, seemed the final chapter for Ismaiel, who returned home to Cape Town and started living life outside of rugby.
“The fact that I ended up in Stellenbosch, training with the Sevens guys, was a miracle itself – I never thought my shoulder would heal so well that I could just be functional again and even more so, start playing rugby again,” he said.
“The last couple of months have been so gratifying and to know that I am on my way to play for this team on the world stage, is really a special feeling. The Blitzboks are standard bearers in the world of sevens and to be part of them now is a massive privilege.”
Ismaiel said the demanding work needed to even be considered for selection required a huge shift: “We all know how hard these guys train, it is insane how fit they are.
“For me, coming from an injury lay-off it was even worse, but now, it is worth it. Those days of suffering are not over, as we still have intense sessions, but at least I can reap the rewards and play alongside them.”
Tries and heaps of them is a fair expectation from a Springbok winger coming into the Blitzbok set-up and Ismaiel is not shying away from that.
“Tries will come my way, but there are a lot of other contributions I need to make as well, seeing that there are just seven players on the field. For now I just want to reward the faith that was put in selecting me and return the compliment to a squad that welcomed me from day one,” he said.
The Blitzboks are pooled with Ireland, Uruguay and Canada in Pool B.