In October of last year (2020) - I created a profile on the Ironman Virtual Club platform and started taking part in their suggested triathlons, that you complete on your own.
You register, do the triathlon, and your GPS device (my Garmin watch) will automatically link your activity to your Ironman profile.
I do it for fun and general fitness. I like the suggested training plan for the week, and enjoy doing the different triathlons on the weekends. I am pretty slow, and by no means a gifted triathlete - but I do it anyway, and enjoy it thoroughly.
I did a few of these, and towards the end of the year, I started thinking about doing my own challenge for my upcoming birthday, in celebration of having made it another year, after surviving two life-threatening illnesses as a teenager (Hodgkins Lymphoma and Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura).
I decided that since I was going to be turning 31, I would do a 3.1km swim, followed by a 31mile cycle (50kms), followed by a 31km run.
I was taught how to swim as a child, but just the basics, it was actually more of a how not to drown lesson. I always loved the water and felt comfortable being in it, yet as I mentioned, in terms of swimming - there was no technique know-how. Trying to learn how to swim decently as an adult has not been without difficulty. I knew 3.1kms for my capabilities was a bit of a stretch, but I had no doubt that I could do it, even if it had to be done slowly.
The cycle I knew was totally manageable and wouldn't exhaust me, but the run was once again, a bit of a stretch. In 2020 I had started running and did a few 10kms, which was my furthest distance until I made up my mind to do "The Titanium Triathlon" two weeks before my birthday on the 22nd January, and pushed myself to do a 21km run.
It was more of a jog/ walk/ jog/ walk - which I was happy with as this has never been about timing for me, it doesn't matter if it takes me all day - if I've decided to do it, I won't stop until it's done.
I wanted to do the triathlon, for myself, and also to raise money for two charities that mean a great deal to me. I however went back and forth a few times about whether or not to put the word out there as I wasn't sure that anyone could afford to donate money during a global pandemic, whilst so many of us are struggling to just make ends meet.
In the end, I pushed myself to just do it, as there was nothing to lose, and since it was on my heart - I had to at least try.
I posted a video on Facebook explaining what I planned on doing, and why I chose the two charities that I did.
CHOC, the childhood cancer foundation, I chose because I was deeply affected when seeing how children with cancer struggle. I was a child with cancer myself when I was 15, and as one can imagine, it's tough in so many ways. I felt fortunate to have my family's constant support and whilst my ill health put a great deal of financial pressure on my parents as our medical aid didn't cover everything, it at least covered a big portion of my treatment. Without this, I'm not sure where I would be today and am saddened by the reality that not all children are that fortunate.
When I had to go to Cape Town for treatment, my Oncologist, and heroine, Dr Elre' Van Heerden, told us about CHOC, and that they could assist us over there if we needed help with accommodation or emotional support. I researched them and was amazed by the work that they were doing and have been a fan of theirs ever since and have always wanted to help in some way.
The second organization I chose to raise funds for, is the People's Dispensary For Sick Animals.
During COVID, I started volunteering at the PDSA, assisting in any way I could - cleaning cages, walking dogs and giving them physio (and a lot of love), and even helping out in the theatre. I saw firsthand the exemplary work that the team was doing. The PDSA is a non-profit organization that assists animals whose owners can't afford the cost of private veterinarians. They ask for a small fee, or a donation, and do everything they can for the animals and manage to keep going through private donations.
I love animals, and therefore want to assist them to keep on doing what they're doing. I am passionate about both organizations and didn't want to choose just one, which is why I opted for all money raised to be halved. Half to CHOC, and half to the PDSA.
I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical and not sure that any money would be raised at all, but I went ahead and put the word out there, through Facebook and Instagram, created a GoGetFunding link, and asked my friends and followers to please help me in sharing it.
I then posted a few videos prior to the triathlon, of me training and being open and fairly vulnerable regarding why this is so close to my heart. Eon Engelbrecht from Eradio was kind enough to feature my story on radio, he was (is) an absolute star and even kept his listeners up to date with how the triathlon was going whilst I was doing it and played a voice note I sent to him on-air.
In those two weeks leading up to the triathlon, from when I announced it, to the day of, I was astounded by the support and love I received, and the amount raised. I wasn't sure what to expect, and the R26 000 raised exceeded what I imagined.
Although it's been many years since my diagnosis and I have been in remission for just over a decade, I have still struggled to truly deal with how the illnesses affected me and have ignored and tried to bury my pain.
The decision to do this triathlon, and to share it - helped me to deal with it in a small way, as well as further ignited a desire I've had for a while, but one that I had been suppressing: to help others going through struggles, to encourage them, and to be an example in showing that you can turn your life around.
Through this endeavor, three things have been highlighted to me:
We can truly do anything we put our minds to.
The community supports good intentions.
If something is on your heart, don't be afraid to try - just go for it.
As for the experience of the triathlon - I loved it!
I wanted to do it alone, as I generally choose to do things on my own. I find training alone to be peaceful and I feel stronger when I am on my own.
It's my time to be alone with my constantly shifting thoughts, to push myself, as well as to be fragile when I need to be, which I still struggle to do in front of people.
I often find that I feel most proud of myself when I am running or cycling alone, and I am reminded of how far I've come. I clearly remember being very heavy, very tired, and very sad - and I worked incredibly hard to not be that anymore. It didn't happen overnight, and it wasn't easy, but with determination, as I said before - we can achieve anything.
I started the swim first thing in the morning, as soon as the gym opened. I would've opted for an open-water swim, but due to lockdown, open-water swimming was banned at the time.
I was happy with my swim time and felt good doing it. I went into it feeling joyful and had an immense gratitude flowing through my body that felt like it was fueling me. I wasn't fast, but I was steady, and I got out feeling good.
The cycle, I continued on that note, feeling strong. I had worked out my route beforehand and planned to cycle to Grootbrak and then to my house, where I would leave my bicycle, and start the run from there.
My Dad drove up beside me for a short while, hooting and cheering, and of course, recording videos to update the family.
My cycle time, by my standards, was pretty good, especially after having swum before that. I munched down some peanut butter sarmies, put on my running shoes, and hit the road.
I started off well, still feeling relatively strong, but knew not to push myself. I did a mix of jog/ walking - which started to become more walking as the hills of the seven passes road started to become more tiresome.
Although I was a little tired, I still felt reasonably good and stuck to my plan of just enjoying the day. I was not pushing myself to finish within any specific time, nor did I feel that I needed to run.
At about the 20km mark, my legs and feet started hurting a little, but there was never any point at which I thought I had taken on too much... although I did find myself wishing I was turning 21 and not 31, haha.
At 26kms, my Dad brought me some water. Only when I gulped it down, did I realize just how much I had needed it. I was running with my hydration pack, and still had a few sips of water left in it and thought I was doing alright for hydration. I had actually told him he didn't have to bother with bringing me water as I only had 5kms left, so I'd see him at the finish. Thankfully he didn't listen.
Freshly hydrated, I tried to jog the remaining 5kms, but once again, my legs would only allow a mixture of jog/ walking.
The day itself was very hot, +-30degrees celsius, but somehow, my mind protected me from the heat.
I didn't really feel it until my watch struck 31kms. My mileage was achieved and I had miscalculated my finish line by a few km's, meaning that I was about 2 and a half km's away from my pickup point, but that in terms of the triathlon, I had achieved the goal.
I logged the distance and a small tear may have fallen down my cheek as I felt the joy and pride at having accomplished my goal.
I slowly continued walking to the designated pickup point, while cursing myself for having added on a few unnecessary kilometers. It was at this point that it was like there was a switch from being OK to not OK. My mind registered that the goal was achieved, and my body decided that enough was enough - the sun instantaneously felt like it became 10 x hotter and I suddenly wasn't sure how I was even operating and putting one foot in front of the other.
It sounds a bit dramatic I know, but I suddenly found myself struggling and decided to try and find some shade to sit in. I was on the highway, sitting on the side of the road, under a tiny bush, both laughing at myself and feeling a tiny bit sorry for myself at that moment.
I called my dear father, and as always, he came to save me.
I was totally fine, just a little dehydrated, and once I remedied that, I felt surprisingly great and was reminded of the power of the mind.
In my mind, there was simply no way that I was not going to finish what I set out to do, irrespective of the conditions. I believe that if I had set my mind to 50kms that day, my collapse would only have happened at the 50km mark.
All in all, it was a huge success for me. I am thrilled to have assisted in raising funds for two worthy charities that are helping children and animals, and I am grateful for the lessons that I personally learned through this challenge.
I'd like to end off with a gentle message reminding you that you are capable, you are strong and you can overcome.
Despite all the shit that life throws at us, it continues to be beautiful. There is joy to be had.
For me, life changed when I started going outdoors more frequently - I discovered indescribable joy.
Just small walks in nature. No need to start big, no need to dive straight into a triathlon. Just get outside when you can. Take care of yourself, love yourself, and then start to challenge yourself.
We're pretty badass and can handle it, and thrive.
Thank you to everyone who donated/ who shared the link, and who sent me such kind messages. I am so very thankful to all of you.
Special thanks to my Mum and Dad for all the love and never-ending support, always.
Ps. The GoGetFunding link will stay active, and donations to the two charities are always welcome.