Photo by Nic Acampora

I had the great privilege of being a part of this extraordinary journey called Summit SA! Matt Te Water decided that he would plot a route from one of the lowest points in SA (Moses Mabhida) to the highest point in SA (Mafadi Peak).  I was invited to be part of the support team. To encourage by running along and being of service.

255km and approximately 6500m of elevation gain. Matt, Jordan and Andrew started at 5am on Friday (18th June) morning. They managed to run 107km on day 1 which is not a small feat. Unfortunately, Matt had some niggles (normal after 107km of running!) which would not go away, and he had to drop out on day 2. Nonetheless he was there every step of the way supporting his crew and even rode his bike for a few kms. Regardless of Matt not being able to run, he was there to make sure the rest of the team got to the top of that mountain.

I joined the guys somewhere on the Dargle road on Saturday morning, at this point they had already run approximately 40km. From that point on I pretty much felt like Pablo Escobar escaping the feds. There is no direct line from Moses Mabhida Stadium to Mafadi Peak without having to cross a few farms, barbed wires fences and a decent amount of bushwhacking. Once we hit the Kamberg road I felt a sense of relief – ok we haven’t got shot! There is something quite exhilarating about being scared. Your adrenaline pumps, your palms start to sweat, and you seem to have a higher level of awareness – I had found my new “high”, my source of excitement and my why. I have found adventure!

Photo by Lost in South Africa

Photo by Lost in South Africa

The night part of the run was particularly difficult; especially for the guys as that melatonin kicked in; but they carried on with a smile on their faces. Jordan looked quite sore but every time I would ask how he was feeling he would say “yeah good hey, I’m good”. A quiet, humble warrior fighting a war silently. It was amazing to watch him trudge on with modest yet powerful strength and determination. As for Andrew, well I think he is just a phenomenal athlete and thrives on these challenges. He was a great team-mate for Jordan. The two were paired perfectly. Like watching brothers in arms on the battlegrounds never allowing more than a couple of meters between them.

Watching Jordan push on was very humbling for me, he did not complain once despite the pain he was in. I guess it made me think of how each and everyone of us have our cross to bear and often we suffer in silence. Its easier to let others believe that we “got our shit together” when in the meantime it sometimes feels like we are crumbling inside. This is where humility has been a great teacher for me. It is the foundation on which I try and live my life. With humility I can remain open to experiences and not close my spirit off from the light. I am continuously amazed at the lessons I am taught when embracing this ethos of humility: this is where most of my learning is taking place; through people and service.

On Sunday (20th June) morning we woke up and summited Mafadi Peak- the final climb of Summit SA. It was a beautiful morning and although the wind was icy the warm sun quickly helped one forget the sharp bite of the cold. We had such a laugh all the way up – a lot of future life bars, war stories and even a fall or two. It was incredible to watch the two (Jordan and Andrew) summit SA. Embracing each other at the end of a victorious battle!

So often when I find myself at the top of a mountain or a summit, I think to myself what a metaphor climbing and trail running is for recovery. We all have our mountains to climb, most of which is caused by the wreckage of our pasts and the paths we chose to take; often being the difficult and dangerous way up the mountain. As you stare at this mountain (obstacle) the feelings of pain, fear, hopelessness, insecurity, and self-doubt start to overcome your ability to move forward but it is so simple, you just need to step one foot in front of the next and when you do get to the top all the pain and fear is quickly replaced with a fulfilment of an accomplishment.

I will be honest; it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbow when I put down the drugs and alcohol. At the start of the recovery journey, life is scary. The thought of living life clean and sober is inconceivable- sometimes we feel like we would rather be dead than live a life without our drug of choice. We focus on this massive mountain of living a life where we never can use drugs or alcohol and it pretty much scares the hell out of us but then we learn that it is just for today. Just for today I will not take a drink, just for today I will not take a mind- or mood-altering substance, just for today I will be of service, just for today I will be patient, kind tolerant and give love, just for today I will share my experience with others and so the list goes on… All the same it is just for today. That helps take the focus off the massive mountain and instead focuses on one step at a time. 

Photo by Lost in South Africa

Photo by Lost in South Africa

When we finally reach that summit and look down at the progress we have made, we can look at what we have achieved; the hardships, pain and numbness are seen with a new light. All those “problems” do not seem so big anymore and yes there is still work to be done as we prepare the descent, but we look back up at the mountain with the knowledge that the pain and discomfort we endured was all part of the journey. That is where growth takes place.

This was the first time that I was on the other side of an event that requires resilience, grit and determination. I have been blessed to have an incredibly supportive group of people that have seconded and paced me for ultra-running events. More often than not they have been the driving force that gets me from one aid station to the next; such as life I guess. Being of service to something — a person, a group, a community, a cause or a belief — means that you’ve chosen to engage without expectation of reciprocation. It requires an alignment of one’s values and most significantly the intention of service. For me being of service means getting involved; the desire to be enthralled by the world; by something greater than myself and not because I want to be the greatest one of all.

I learnt this valuable lesson in treatment. Whenever I found myself wallowing in self-pity; feeling like a victim of my life and my circumstances, one of the counsellors would say to me, “Go help someone”. At that point I was willing to do whatever it took to stop feeling the way I did. My thinking never got me anywhere so I thought “let me help as many people as I can” and through these actions I started to find my solution, I started to find my purpose. I really started to feel OK and eventually could look at myself in the mirror.

I always wanted to make a difference in this world but never knew how. I had to start with me. When I could learn to change myself then I could use my experience to help others and that started in recovery. Its only when I started weaving vulnerability and honesty into my life through actions and being of genuine and valuable service was I able to start leaving my fingerprints in this world and passing it on. The ripple effect where I only keep what I have by giving it away.

What the mountains have taught me so far is to go beyond myself without escaping myself. To feel that high without the desire to get high (numb) and most importantly that the greatest rewards come when I am a little bit uncomfortable. It starts with making those choices that align with what is true and right, within all aspects of my being. It sometimes takes courage to step away from the smallness and mediocrity of the superficial and material world and dare to be different- dare to be who I am and not the person that everyone expects me to be. My higher self asks me to go beyond myself without losing who I am for the greater good – the bigger picture

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” — Ghandi

Photo by Mike Tredway

Photo by Mike Tredway