Kobus Cilliers - 'Of course you can do it'

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Kobus Cilliers - 'Of course you can do it'

I was just being me. I had always done different, unexpected and unpredictable things. Everyone knew this. So why, as I approached forty, did people keep attributing my crazy ventures to a mid-life crisis? If this was a mid-life crisis, it had been going on since I was about 15 years old. Now, I accept that many people expected me to die before the age of thirty, and some probably wished I had, but I was still very much alive and kicking and my mid-life was something I was not expecting to face for many years yet 

So, I made a plan. I would do something so outrageously crazy that it would set the bar of expectations very high and from then on, everything would seem tame. Then people could no longer assume I was having some kind of male menopause just because I wanted to go paragliding again or hike across Scotland or make a new plan for the business.

After some research, I came up with my idea: the Marathon des Sables. I had seen Ben Fogle’s documentary about it on television and it was the perfect challenge. I would announce my plan at my 40th birthday party, to the 60 guests who were celebrating with me.

31 May 2008

I made my announcement and they heard me and laughed. To be fair, I was 22 stone at the time, a couch potato who smoked 20 Marlborough every day and had NEVER run further than 2.4km in my life. But they laughed and that laughter sealed my fate, in a far more positive and fundamental way than I could ever have known.

I was, if I am honest, a little daunted by the project. It was a lot to do and I had no experience. Where could I turn for support when my friends and family all joked about it?

I set about finding advice to set me on my way and in due course I came across Martin Like who was then running a little shop from his house in Wales. I was a bit nervous as I told him my dream, more than half expecting him to tell me to go home and give up. But I did not know Martin then. What he actually did was look me in the eyes and say, ‘Of course you can do it.”  Those words had a massive impact on me then and, during the years since, whenever something difficult has threatened to floor me, those words have rung again in my ears. But I am running ahead of my story.

There was a waiting list of 2-3 years to join the Marathon des Sables via England, so I signed up via South Korea and got a place the next year, 2009. I had no idea whether I would complete the race, but I promised myself I would get to the starting line and run on Day One. This I did. I was still 22 stone. I had my packet of Marlborough fastened to my backpack with Velcro, but I lined up at the start and set off. 

30 March 2009

Day One was better than I expected. Days Two and Three were bearable. On Day Four, I was very slow, and desperately struggling to stay ahead of the camels. When they caught with me, the officials insisted that I stop and that was the end of my first attempt to finish an Extreme Marathon. I was awarded the trophy for the least prepared competitor and that was that … for 2009.

 Never a quitter, I vowed to get back and I did not waste any time. The next year, 2010, I entered the race via France. 

4 April 2010

I pitched my tent some yards away from the famous rower, James Cracknell. I had the same plan as the previous year, the same weight to carry and ended with the same result. I shared the podium with Mr Cracknell but he was receiving a trophy to be proud of while I was given the least prepared competitor award yet again.

Still, they say that failure is an important milestone on the road to success. I had worked out that the water ration was too small to allow me enough hydration to cool my body mass so I was starting to show signs of hypothermia. I needed to make some serious changes. For the first time ever in my life, my weight was stopping me from doing what I really wanted to do. For the first time, I actually wanted, needed, determined to lose weight. I would lose half my body weight, enter another extreme marathon, and succeed.

I spent the next six months researching the best way to lose weight then, over the subsequent 18 months, I implemented the plan. And by 2012 I had dropped my weight from 22 to 11 stone. My Blood Pressure was reduced from 120/90 to 110/70. My resting heart rate had dropped from 74 to 55. My cholesterol had dropped from over 8 to under 3. I was almost literally a new man.

 

30 April 2012

Having a major objective to accomplish had become a habit. I couldn’t stop,  now that I had made such progress. Martin Likey’s words had set a tone for my life and I needed a new challenge. The problem was that the weight loss took two years and I wanted to complete a challenge each year. I had some catching up to do. So I did the combined West Highland Way and Cape Wrath Trail, a total distance of 326 miles {Photo 5 – 30 May 2013} and the same year I completed the Augrabies Extreme Marathon.

25 October 2013

My next challenge was more serious and altogether different. I needed to disentangle myself financially and practically from my former wife, without losing touch with my young son. I determined to settle the financial split, claim equal access to Joshua and leave my dispiriting job. This was more difficult than my earlier challenges because I was working with others as well as myself, but eventually I succeeded. Once again, Martin Likey’s words came true: Of course you can do it. And because they had been true in difficult times in the past, I believed them again when times seemed impossible. Of course you can do it, Kobus. Of course you can.

 

 2014

For my 2015 challenge, I revisited a long held dream. Many years earlier I had seen the Lillehammer Winter Olympics and marveled at the bob skeleton run, barely believing that something so exciting could be an Olympic sport. Ever since then I had wanted to hurtle down that course on a tiny tea tray, head first. This became my new challenge and when I succeeded, it was easily the most exhilarating, most scary and most tiring experience of my life.

14 March 2015

What could be next?

By 2015, I was 47 years old. Within three years, before I reached fifty, I would find a soul mate. This was perhaps the most difficult challenge of all because she might not exist, and if she did, she might not want me. But in my usual methodical, determined style I set about my task. After four girlfriends and an unimaginable number of dates, in spring 2016 I met Carol, my soul mate and earlier this year I married her. 

 

9 April 2017

So now, I am a new man, with a new body, new health, a new wife and new family, new children, a new mindset. Carol has already been paragliding with me and we are talking about marathons and bob skeletons. My next challenge has not yet been set, but I know now that it will push my boundaries. The things I have achieved since my fortieth birthday would have seemed impossible if you had suggested them all to me then. My life has completely changed and an inspirational part of that change was my meeting with Martin Like and his simple, inspirational statement: Of course you can do it.

  • Evan Davies