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MY STORY : A JOURNEY OF SELF-DISCOVERY

and the path to a new life as seen from a friend and running mate’s point of view

“I met Douw for the first time in his office at UNISA in 2001. He was the Facilities Manager when our  organisation shifted its training to the UNISA Sunnyside Campus. And we arrived with a Bang!  I ended up with classes of 100 or more public sector managers, desperately trying to get to  grips with the new Public Finance Management Act. As educator and academic I was stretched  to the limit. In my short tea and lunch breaks I fled to Douw’s office just to speak to someone  who would not ask me questions. I found Douw to be a friendly character. He was about the only one who accepted any  responsibility and he helped us a lot – although many of the frustrating problems did not really fall within his job description. I remember Douw sitting in his chair in front of his computer in  his office and that was about it. And he did complain a lot. His work was a bit frustrating with co-workers not bringing their part, cumbersome and ineffective systems, little or no  recognition of achievements, internal politics – it all contributed to Douw’s mood. But  somehow he was not that simple. I always got the idea that Douw was looking for something  more in his life. He has quite a creative side to him and the typical “Africa” greeting cards he created (which were displayed in a shelf in his office) were only one piece of evidence of his  creative talent. When he told me that he also did web design, our organisation engaged him as  our webmaster. We have never regretted this move. He can take initiative and design and  create very unique and arty things. It also seemed that Douw visited his doctors rather regularly. I often knocked on a closed door  – only to be told that Douw took a day’s sick leave – or had to see the doctor – or go for  medical tests. When someone would complain about Douw, I always told them you just have to catch Douw in  the right mood. Because when he was in his one (good) mood, he would be laughing, joking and  helpful as you cannot imagine - positive, creative and cheerful. His other mood, however,  showed a frowning Douw, complaining and sometimes even somewhat rude in his advice or  replies. I always got the feeling that he himself was not really happy with this, his internal  arrangement… During our lunchtime conversations Douw told me what was wrong at his work, his aches and  pains and his unresponsive colleagues. My passion was running and like most runners, the  topic of running tends to eventually find its way into any conversation. When I talked about it,  Douw did not seem to be really interested. In 2001 I finished my eighth Comrades and dipped  below the 8 hour mark. I was on top of the world whilst Douw seemed to complain more and  more about his health, his work, and his surroundings. It was quite a contrast – but we  nevertheless got along well. Runners seem to have a very simplistic outlook on life. They can judge every person with one  look and decide how far and how fast this person can run. I must admit that I also applied this  “test” to Douw. Given his physical condition, being overweight and troubled by illness, the  typical 5km Fun Run Survivor came to mind. Although Douw did not seem particularly interested, I kept sharing my running experiences  with him (can’t talk about anything else you will say): obtaining my Comrades Green Number,  and my multi stage race adventures. He never really responded – or did I detect a slight sparkle  in his eyes at one stage! Well, with hindsight I know that it was indeed a sparkle and that the  seeds were germinating slowly – but inevitably. His dream must have been growing in his head  for a long, long time. But then things began to change. One day I found his door locked in the early afternoon and  later found out that he took the afternoon off to go to the gym early. He told me about his  spinning classes and how he suffered in those early encounters with physical stress due to  exercise. But he seemed to persevere. These were not the activities based the typical New Years’  resolution… The man looked seriously engaged in his new undertakings. He was probably a bit shy in sharing this with me (who was talking about much bigger events),  but I still remember when he told me that he did a 5km run and was planning to do another  one. He got really exited telling me about it and the “Team” he is doing it with. I could not believe it. Let’s not get past this achievement too quickly. I have often said that I  take my hat off to the overweight person who lines up for a 5Km  race (deceitfully labeled a “Fun Run”). You see, these “runners” have taken a decision to change their lives and they are  busy implementing this decision! Well, there can be little fun involved if you are overweight  and have to run 5Km or 5,000 Meters. And Douw was on the wrong side of almost 50 kilos! I  think back to the first day of the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon where I started with a  13 kilo backpack (you have to carry all your clothes, 3 litres of water, food for seven days and  be totally self- sufficient). Thirteen extra kilos on my back very nearly broke me. The first steps  felt like I was in place I was not supposed to be and it did not get any better. However, the  difference between me and Douw was that he was carrying almost four times as much “extra”.  Furthermore, I was top fit when I ran the Kalahari and he was dreaming of being top fit when  he did his first 5km. It must have hurt like hell. Now apart from those overweight persons who you have to admire because they do their first  “long” run, there is another group who you have to admire more: the ones who do their second  “Fun Run”. They now know how much it hurts, yet they come back for more. And Douw came  back for more – much more! The first 10km was soon conquered (or “done and dusted” as he loves to say). And more was on  the cards. He was suddenly very interested in my running stories. Then I started seeing him at  the races. I quickly met the “Team” he had been telling me about. Douw, Pieter and Caren. And  from then the notion of Douw transforming to a runner gathered its own momentum. You have to also give Douw credit for another aspect: Douw did his own thing. Like old Frank,  he did it his way. From his very first race he shared his experiences: announcements on Face  Book, photo collages after every single race, etc.. I think this helped him to persevere. When  you announce what you are going to do in public, you are committed. It’s also good to share  your achievements. And this is what Douw did. Not bombastic, not bragging. Just facts and  figures. And he was nourished from the feed-back he received. He also connected during races,  made friends, chatted to runners, and kept sharing his journey and his dreams. When a runner  you met during a race greets you afterwards by saying “see you next week” and you reply “ok”  you are also committed. He applied all those little tricks and it paid huge dividends. He lost himself in running and found himself there! On the second of November 2013 Douw  joined the sub four-hour club by completing the Kaapsehoop Marathon in a time of 3:50! Now  that is a dream come true. When people change – like losing weight – and you see them regularly, you don’t really notice  it so much. Of course I saw the change in Douw. He lost an incredible amount of weight, he  dressed differently and he laughed and smiled a lot more. But it took me a while to really see  the change that had occurred. So after having known Douw for almost 15 years, reality struck  me a few months ago - one evening during a night race. I was side-lined with an injury and saw the runners off for their 10km run on the Tuks Campus  in September last year. Then I positioned myself at the finish and, feeling all sorry for myself  for not being able to run as well, stood there and thought about running – in between my  thoughts I encouraged the runners sprinting towards the finish line. At first the winners, then  the speedsters, then my old running mates with whom I have spent so many good times on the  road. And suddenly Douw was also there: 54:25. A great time for a 10km. He had totally  repositioned himself as a runner. That evening just under 1,000 runners completed the race  and Douw finished in position 275. That’s the top 30% of the entire field and he was bang in  the middle between 40 and 50 years old. Certainly no youngster, but leaving 70% of the field  behind him! But this was not all that struck me that evening. While I was standing there in the moonlight in  the shadow of the flood lights of the rugby field where the finish was, I sort of got some  distance. I felt like being this far-away observer, spying on what was happening here. But not a  spy amongst people. No, I was watching from far, far away. And as Douw passed me and I saw  his face, I saw Douw behind his desk, fourteen years ago. 48 Kilos heavier, tired, irritated, a  frown on his face – and then in a flash I saw Douw now, in running clothes, sweat pouring  down his toned muscles – and then again Douw with a kind of Madiba Shirt to hide his figure  many years ago and finally as he looked at me and laughed, I saw Douw The Athlete. Fit,  strong, healthy and relaxed. And although he said he was tired, exhausted from the last sprint,  there was no tiredness in his eyes. He tried to look tired by pulling his mouth down, but he  could not hide the smile hidden deep inside. It was here and then that I realised the full extent of the transformation he had undergone.  He had indeed lived his dream. What more can a human being ask for or achieve? Of course, in his future there will be many more achievements along the way. That is why I love  this sport so much. Your own personal milestones: running 50 marathons; joining the 100  Marathons Club, setting a new PB on an old course, getting your permanent race numbers and  so on and so on. I know he has set his sights on the Big C: the Ultimate Human Race: the  Comrades Marathon in 2014. But after that he will surely tell you that he also wants to run the  Comrades Up-Run in 2015 to get a back-to-back medal. Running never stops. If you are a  runner, running is life and life is running – and Douw is now a Runner. Now that you know a bit about his story, when (not if!) Douw finishes his Comrades in June  this year, don’t admire him for what he has achieved on the day. Admire him for what he has  done to be able to do what he did on Comrades Day. When he talks about his journey, Douw gives a lot of credit to the people around him. His Team  and many others who inspired and motivated him. Of course he is too humble to elaborate on  his part. I can only guess how hard it must have been. But if you really try, you will succeed.  His story reminds me of what Paul Coelho wrote in his book The Alchemist. “If you really want  something, the whole universe will conspire to help you achieve it”. We are all part of Douw’s  big conspiracy and that makes his achievement ours as well. That is what gives all of us  fulfillment and hope and that is why we all owe gratitude to the warriors like Douw who inspire  us and keep this wonderful world in balance. Thank you Douw, I salute you! Dieter Gloeck