8th June 2019 marked an important day for Heinrich whom was crowned the new Mr South Africa for 2019 at a glamorous event in Camps Bay, Cape Town. An encouragement that dreams can come true.
He was a little nine-year-old boy when Heinrich Gabler lost his mother in a car accident. Her funeral was a turning point in his life. He had to bury his mother, and to his devastation, it was also the last time he would see his father. Heinrich, along with his older sister and two brothers, was then brought to House Andrew Murray (HAM), a Children’s Home in Wellington.
The first nine years of Heinrich’s life were not easy. He was often left to fend for himself. His mother worked long hours, and his dad struggled with alcohol addiction.
The children’s home was like a place of refuge to him. Suddenly he had a warm bed to sleep in and guaranteed meals, three times a day.
The initial few months at HAM was, however, a roller-coaster of emotions. He felt confused and heartbroken. He lost his mother and his world was ripped apart. Yet, at the children’s home, he experienced safety and security.
“House Andrew Murray taught me to be independent, to respect other people along with many other values I still hold dear to today.”
Life changing event
Like most teenagers, Heinrich went through an existential crisis, questioning the meaning of life and his existence. He recalls a day in Grade eight when he decided to enter into a personal relationship with God and many of his questions were answered.
“That feeling of emptiness was gone and I experienced an inner peace like never before. I felt worthy and I knew that I belonged. To this day, I hold on to the scripture: ’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’- Jeremiah 29:11.”
People who made a difference
Heinrich could not have done this alone. He had a village of incredible people who had a significant impact on his life. One such person was Christa Brits, a housemother at HAM.
“She believed in me and changed my world. She used to encourage me and tell me that I had a bright future ahead of me. I was not used to hearing these things. This might be the greatest gift anyone has ever given to me.”
Heinrich also had a mother figure outside of the children’s home. Dawn Bradnick (Jorgensen) was like an angel sent from heaven. There was a time when Dawn and her family wanted to adopt Heinrich but he declined the offer. Heinrich spent weekends and holidays with Dawn and her family on the farm where he received lots of love. Come Sunday late afternoon, he was ready to go back home to HAM, to his ‘mother’ Christa.
During his school years, the sports ground became a space of affirmation and dreams for him. Heinrich received provincial colours for athletics in Grade 11, played for various Boland rugby teams, from u/16 up to u/21, and in 2017 he represented Western Province in action cricket. It was also within these sporting environments where the void of a dad was filled by loving and caring coaches such as Lance Sendin (High School rugby), Shaun Doubell and Ian Cloete (Primary School rugby).
After completing his school career at Huguenot- Primary and High School, Heinrich received a bursary to study teaching at Cape Peninsula University (CPUT) and moved from HAM to the university residence.
A passion for children
Whilst studying, Heinrich was working hard to become a professional rugby player and it looked like he was well on his way. He offered to help coach rugby at Huguenot Primary School. Little did he know that this would be a pivotal moment in his life.
“After that first coaching session, I realised that there was nothing else I wanted to do than to work with kids.”
Thereafter, he actively pursued a career in teaching and pushed the professional rugby dream aside. Heinrich’s first formal employment as a teacher was at Van Riebeeckstrand Primary in Melkbosstrand. Heinrich wanted to be the caring and loving coach to the learners as his coaches were to him. He regularly communicated with parents about their children’s holistic development.
This was also how Heinrich met Lizel and Piet Visser, parents of Jean Visser, a learner at Riebeeckstrand whom Heinrich coached. As the years went on the Vissers learnt Heinrich’s story and became his family. Heinrich now teaches at Huguenot Primary School; a dream came true as he is able to give back to the community and the children staying at HAM.
The journey of becoming a Mr South Africa finalist
Except for loving aunties, teachers, lecturers and rugby coaches who shaped his life, he vividly recalls a moment in his matric year when Dieter Voigt (Mr South Africa 2007), approached him and told him that he had the talent and ability to make a difference in society, using the modelling platforms.
He started to love the modelling scene and has a few titles under his belt including Mister – Huguenot, Western Cape, Winelands, CPUT, just to name a few.
Heinrich entered Mr South Africa last year, 2017, and was one of the final 14 contenders. He never set his mind on winning the competition, but after being part of the process and learning the ropes, he decided to re-enter the competition and is currently a top 10 finalist.
“It would be great to obtain the title of Mr South Africa as it would give me a platform to share my story of hope to thousands of people. The title will also help me to establish my own NPO, where I will use sport to impact the lives of many kids, just as it impacted mine.”
Heinrich has a heart of gold and participates in many social outreaches mostly to do with children and sport. He once shaved his hair to raise fund for the Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa. The list is long.
“I don’t like telling people about the things I do for others. I believe that your right hand should not know what your left hand is doing. It was very difficult for me to do all the social media marketing required by the Mr. SA pageant.”
A Dream Come True: Named Mr South Africa 2019
On 8 June 2019, Heinrich was crowned the new Mr South Africa for 2019 at a glamorous event in Camps Bay, Cape Town. An encouragement that dreams can come true.
Heinrich is a true inspiration, role model and ambassador. He knows the privileged of being loved and belonging to a family and he knows loss, rejection and abandonment. He knows lack and he knows abundance. “I don’t give because I have; I give because I know what it means not to have.” He carries a story of hope, one that encourages others to never give up on their dreams, to rise above their circumstances, to embrace community, stay humble and continuously look for opportunities to give back.