“We are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence. I am not remotely interested in just being good.” Vince Lombardi
A little over a year ago one of our clients (and really good personal friend), Rodney Long was in the final stages of preparing for the Otter African Trail Run. He was super fit and putting most of his younger training partners to the sword. To give you some context, Rodney was a superb rugby player in his younger years and unfortunately years of top level rugby have left his knees short of cartilage and susceptible to injury. In the 2 years of coaching Rodney we had got him to the point where he was able to run consistently without any pain. Rodney brought a level of discipline, open mindedness and focus that is exceptionally rare. I had given Rodney one last specific training run for Otter which he did and a day or two later his knee started to feel sore. I was pretty sure that it was just a bit of bone bruising and that he would still be ok. Unfortunately, an MRI revealed that Rodney had partially torn his meniscus and the bone bruising was really bad. After a visit to the surgeon, he was given very few options. Either go under the knife (again) or rest and give up running. To say we were disappointed would be an understatement. We were both gutted.
Rodney was quite clear he did not want to go under the knife again and decided to consult with Dr Hilton Lazaar, a local chiro with an equally open mind and passion for helping people. Together they put together a plan where Rodney would come in for Laser therapy a couple of times a week for a few months and slowly start with a rehab protocol in the gym. At the same time Rodney decided that to give himself something to work towards that he would start planning to do the Drakensberg Grand Traverse the following September. The traverse is around 225km covering some of the wildest and most remote mountain terrain in South Africa. The traverse includes over 8,500m of vertical elevation and many hours spent over 3,000m of altitude. Let that sink in a little.
Both Hilton and I tried to convince Rodney that there must be slightly less lofty goals that he could rather attempt. Rodney was having none of it. After a few months of treatment and light rehab, Hilton decided that Rodney needed a test of sorts, so he suggested a 20 min walk on the jeep track up to the dams above Constantia Nek and then an easy walk back down. This would give us a gauge of where the knee was at and at least a starting point for preparing for the traverse. It was around this time that Rodney decided to try wearing a pair of minimal shoes to not only walk in but spend the majority of his day in. Again, Hilton and I were sceptical – not that we doubt the importance of developing strong feet but purely because typically jumping from normal shoes to minimal shoes without carefully transitioning can often lead to injury. Painfully slowly we increased the distance until such time as Rodney was able to go up to the dams via the stairs and come back down via the road. We also started to increase his load in the gym. Bear in mind that the manner in which Rodney planned to do the traverse was completely self-sufficient so he would need to carry a pack of around 15kg every day.
Rodney, along with Robyn and Mike Owen, good friends and owners of For The Love of Adventure (FTLOAdventure on Instagram) began planning the details of the trip. For those that don’t know Robyn and Mike they are meticulous, humble and passionate about the mountains. In my mind there was no one better to lead Rodney and his crew around the ‘Berg’.
Fast forward a few months and many hours of hiking up and down Table Mountain with a pack, really tough sessions in the gym and some more careful planning and the team were ready to embark on one incredible adventure. While every member of the team appeared to have at least one really tough day, they managed to pull together and pull off the traverse in 6 days and 4 hours. While at this point we are not exactly sure, this may in fact be the fastest time for anyone over 50 years old to complete the traverse. What is even more remarkable is that Rodney had no knee pain whatsoever.
Rodders, ‘ol boy, I could not be more proud of you and what you have accomplished this past year. You could have easily packed it in and given up but instead you switched focus from what you couldn’t do to what you could. You took all that frustration of not being able to run and dreamed really big. It’s been a real privilege to play some small part in this journey and I can’t wait to see what adventures lay ahead.