A broken heart and two left feet…still I run
Born at 4 am on a mild winter morning in what was then Salisbury, Rhodesia, I appeared healthy in every way until the doctor’s facial expression made my mom realise that not everything was as it should be…
Closer inspection revealed a serious case of club feet, a result of not enough growing space in my mother’s womb. The norm back in the ’60’s was a series of operations as soon as possible to the affected feet and ankles to straighten them out.
Thankfully my folks opted to rather spend countless hours bending my feet back into place and massaging my muscles and tendons in an attempt to stretch them enough so that they could eventually grow and support the natural development of my feet. 24 months later, I was able to walk normally with no perceived side effects, no ugly scars and no ridicule from other children because I couldn’t walk properly.
A few years later in primary school, after very mild exercise, I developed excruciating chest pains that made it difficult for me to breathe as well as tire me out to the extent that I had to lay down and rest for several hours to recover. Extensive examination revealed a heart valve defect that meant not enough blood was getting pumped to my heart leading to an oxygen deficiency throughout my body that led to the extreme tiredness. The heart ‘murmur’ would either mend over time as I grew older or it would need surgery but for the time being I was restricted from any physical activity for my junior school days.
To battle the frustration of being confined to bed rest every afternoon after school whilst my school mates were going to cricket or rugby practise or practising for the school athletics meeting, I took to reading and entered the magical world of fictional Comrades 2018+Flanagan’s Runcharacters, eventually consuming the stories in books before breakfast, on the way to school, before lunch, during lunch, during my naps in the afternoon and even under the covers with the help of a torch at night when it was ‘lights out’ and I was supposed to be asleep.
In 1982 at the age of 13, I took my saved up pocket-money from washing dishes and working in the garden on weekends and bought ‘Flanagan’s Run‘, a novel written by Scottish athlete and author, Tom McNab. I think what initially drew my attention to the book was the illustration on the cover, a group of athletes running like their lives depended on it, such an alluring image for someone who yearned to run, be ‘normal’ and just go outside and have fun with their mates. The book lived up to all expectations, an epic story of 2000 runners taking on the challenge of running 3000 miles across America from LA to NYC for lucrative prize money. Looking back to that day in the bookstore where I had to stand on my tiptoes and reach for a book that today still finds a place in the library at home, I was hooked and determined to defy the over protective shackles of my parents and run somewhere far, one day.
DKL – husband to EKL will be a regular contributor to this blog, sharing his journey to Comrades 2018