Run For Joy, Run UTD 100 Miler
“Running one of the toughest trail runs South Africa has to offer, as an amputee.”
My journey into the world of 100 milers started last year when a good friend asked if I would second them for the 2021 Ultra Trail Drakensberg 100 Miler. Not really understanding what this was all going to entail, I immediately agreed and the seed was planted…
UTD 2021 was a mere few months after my below knee amputation. I remember some days I could barely fit my prosthetic leg on, especially if my stump wasn’t feeling too happy or if I hadn’t spent enough time elevating my leg that day. My morning routine consisted of a lot of “gritting teeth” whilst trying to shove my stump into a prosthetic leg. And then, two days before the event, I made the drastic decision to drop all the medication I was on. This included sleeping tablets, anti-depressants and several other tablets. I’ve always been an all or nothing person, and this was just another example of my tenacity (or sheer Irish stubbornness!) to get the job done!
Driving to Lesotho and up to the Highest Pub in Africa was quite something! I had never been up Sani Pass before and I was a nervous wreck from going cold turkey off my medication .The pass was extremely steep, with massive drop offs, but I was also feeling the excitement as I met and mingled with some amazing people and athletes.
The race had begun and I was still unsure of the massive undertaking these athletes were about to endure. Throughout the entire event I wore long pants and tried my best to keep a brave face on, but I was in a world of pain both physically and mentally. Seconding one of the top female trail runners in South Africa scared the life out of me.
Fast forward a few months and there I was chatting to my coach about entering UTD 100 Miler! I had just run Karkloof 50 Miler in a time of 15h56min so if you doubled that and added some VAT,then a 100 miler seemed like a good possibility. At this point my health, training program and general comfort on my leg were pretty good. I was training as much as my stump would allow but still had a long way to go with my fitness. I found myself having long conversations with my prosthesis team about how we could improve my running leg to better suit trail running. Being the only ultra distance blade runner in the country means all the R& D lies on my shoulders. My coaching team were very understanding and never pushed me when I couldn’t run and instead we decided to use swimming as an alternative training source. And so I added the Midmar Mile 16 Mile Charity Swim to my 2022 schedule. That’s swimming 16 Midmar Miles in one go!
Before I knew it, 2022 had arrived.
My crazy vision had me doing one ultra swim, an ultra run, a big cycle event and then culminating with all 3 at an Ironman event. Slowly the plan began to take shape and the events chosen were:
Midmar 16-Miler, UTD 100 Miler, Sani2c Non-stop and ending off with Ironman in Cozumel, Mexico.
In February of 2022, I participated in the MidMar Mile 16-miler charity. The event went smoothly and I added one more mile on and competed in the “Disabilities Race”, placing third. The swim training contributed to some good cross training and I was well conditioned and ready to take on the running miles.
Now it was all eyes on Ultra Trail Drakensberg.
My running gait was not as easy or flowing as I had hoped. In order to get some better results, I pretty much cut my R40k blade in half hoping I could get more movement from it on uneven surfaces. It worked surprisingly well and I was able to push the training and log even more hours. Unfortunately cutting the blade weakened it and with the hours I was spending running I eventually cracked my blade and was unable to use it. This put me without a running leg for almost a month with only several weeks to go to the event. Amazingly, my prosthesis at Durban Prosthetics and Ossur South Africa donated a new blade. This new blade was called a Cheetah Explore. It’s a lot stiffer than my previous blade which in turn provides more energy to propel me forward. The entire socket (the carbon part of the leg that my stump fits into) is also completely different so we had our work cut out for us to get this feeling comfortable.
What ensued next was several failed runs and many trips down to Durban until we finally made a breakthrough with the correct setup for my new blade. These new modifications made it possible for me to run more comfortably on uneven surfaces which trail running is well known for!
All through this process and after experiencing first-hand the expenses involved in prosthetics, I had been toying with the idea of how I could help others who are in need of mobility. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing father who donated a vintage motorbike to a community raffle and raised around R250 000. This certaily seemed like a lot of money but it was spent extremely fast on my new legs, the surgery, hospital stay and all the physio and alternative healing methods I used to get back on two feet. And this is how Rejuvenate SA was born.
I never saw myself opening a non-profit but destiny presented me with this opportunity and I grabbed it with both hands and haven’t looked back since. Rejuvenate SA is an NPO whose purpose is to provide those in need with the means to get mobile again; whether it’s crutches, wheel chairs or prosthetic limbs.
It quicky dawned on me that the very first candidate for Rejuvenate SA was going to be someone extremely close to my heart. I had grown up with a girl named Joy. She was born with Brittle Bone disease and by the time she was 8, she had fractured almost every bone in her body and lived an extremely painful life. Her prognosis was not good. She was then given a chance to trial a new drug which assisted her condition greatly, however she is confined to a wheel chair for the rest of her life. Joy has to be the most positive and joyful human I know and I made the decision to run my 100 miler for a purpose and that purpose was to raise money to give Joy a set of new wheels! A new wheel chair will enable Joy to pursue her passion of photography and grow her small business even further.
I travelled down to Durban with Joy in order to get her measured up for her new wheelchair. This would enable us to get a quote so we could more accurately fundraise with Sports for Lives. On arrival, it was clear as day that Joy’s current wheelchair was far too big and bulky for her. The team from Durban Prosthetics had some options for her to try. Joy took these temporary wheels for a spin down the hallway and the smile on her face when she wheeled herself back into the consulting room was unforgettable. In that moment, we all knew that we could never put her back in her old chair and the decision was made to set Joy up in her new wheelchair before the funding had even come through! Joy was speechless when we told her the good news and the tears were flowing. But now the pressure was on to get the funding started to pay for the wheelchair.
With race day just around the corner I was feeling comfortable, trained and excited. Being an ambassador for the WildTrust, I had run the Wild Series Three Cranes Challenge in February in the Karkloof Reserve. 3 days of trail running with a cumulative total of 100kms in distance. It couldn’t have gone better and I felt ready for the big mountains in the Drakensberg! The only problem was with all this excessive training I had been doing, my actual stump had lost so much volume due to sweating and weight loss. That meant a new socket was in order. However this can take anywhere between 1 to 4 weeks to complete and get fitted.
It was at this point, exactly 4 weeks to Race Day, that I joined my coaches and team for a training weekend in Lesotho. I barely managed get through the first 32km’s on day one. My stump had shrunk so much that I couldn’t fit any more socks over it to try and full the void. The discomfort was excruciating and I knew then that without a new socket, I wouldn’t make it to the start line of UTD. More trips down to Durban to begin a new fitting for the socket… and then disaster struck!
KZN experienced torrential rain which lead to enormous and widespread flooding with devastating consequences for the province. And for me! With Durban being the hardest hit, there was no electricity or water to the city which meant my leg could not be completed. I knew that I was going to have to accept and move forward with whatever the outcome was meant to be. We were now only 5 days away from the start of a 100 mile race across 2 countries and the biggest mountain range in South Africa, and I was waiting with bated breath to see if I would have a running leg! With mere hours to go to d-day, I received the call from my Prosthesis on Tuesday evening that my leg was ready. Racing down to Durban, I collected my new running leg nd after a whirlwind tunraroun, left with my support team to head for the mountains….