Men (and Women) of Iron

©2012 Edward C. Lunnon

Monday 23 April 2012: 5 years 7 months on … Game CBD

Sometimes, even a man made of iron has feet of clay, and stumbles and falls. After all, we are all only human!

This past Sunday was the annual London Marathon. It’s of no particular significance to me other than that Londres is my favourite city in the entire world, and my surname resulted from the colloquial pronunciation of the City’s name by my Londoner forefathers.

 It was also the annual Spec-Savers IRONMAN ® South Africa competition held here in Nelson Mandela Bay. The athletes swim 3,8km in the Indian Ocean, then cycle 180 km in and around the Port Elizabeth countryside and top it all off with a marathon run, 42km along the streets of the city!

The triathlon starts at 07h00 on Sunday and the winners do it all in some eight and a half hours. The cut-off time for the rest of the masses is at midnight.  If one completes the challenge within the allotted seventeen hours, you earn the right to call yourself an IRONMAN ®!  

I remember being one of just a few people at Hobie Beach watching the very first IRONMAN ® contest in 2005. Lindsay Brown, who got me to run my first Knysna half-marathon in 2000 with him, and who had been the MD of Spec-Savers, was participating in the event.

But around this event has now sprung up a mushroom patch of other supporting events – Iron Girl (on Friday) and IRONKIDS® and the Vodacom Corporate Triathlon Challenge powered by AlgoaFM (held on Saturday) – and thousands of participants, volunteers, workers and spectators.

Of particular significance to me was the Corporate Challenge. It is also a triathlon, but just 10% of the distances of the IRONMAN® contest are involved. Either one, two or three people may complete the three disciplines.

Together with two other people who also have neurological illnesses like me, we were entering for this competition. Unfortunately, the interest in the race this year was so great that the organisers had to cut off the entries at 1500 people, and we fell on the wrong side of the cut-off point.

And, maybe a good thing, too!

The disease has been taking its toll and the last few weeks, I think, has seen more deterioration than in the preceding five years!

My body feels like a pot of stew simmering away on the stove. As you see little craters and movement appearing in the surface of the stew, just so do the muscles twitch and spasm in different areas all over my body. My left leg appears to have a short-circuit somewhere: it works and then stops – losing all its power. My left arm is difficult to lift beyond waist height. My mind is all over the place.

I have been laid low for the first time since becoming ill. No Stellenbosch for me this weekend (to see Grey First XV beat Paul Roos) and no beachfront to experience all the Ironman excitement. I have been confined to the house and to my room most of the time, and I have to guard against becoming a total recluse! This iron man also has feet of clay!

But don’t let me feel sorry for myself.

We were planning to participate in the Corporate Challenge to raise awareness of neurological illnesses. Yvonne Anderson has been extremely helpful in doing work with handicapped people and she arranged for me to see some people on Wednesday.

I met with Msimeselo Boltina, a young black guy from Lusikisiki in what was the former Transkei Homeland. He is some twenty-eight years old, confined to a wheelchair, cannot talk and has been (most probably mis-) diagnosed with arthritis! If we think we are hard done by poor medical infrastructure and support, then he (and so many others) really has a massive challenge.

Put into the equation a young psychology student, Callyn Bowler – ironically her father Keith Bowler is one of the main organisers of the IRONMAN® SA contest. In her boyfriend’s mother, she has been exposed to the ravages of motor neurone disease and has felt moved to assist people in this area who have the disease. She has researched the internet and with the information gleaned there, wishes to start a support group for MND patients in the Eastern Cape.

It really would be great to see her vision come to fruition in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Besides the symptoms of one’s illness that one has to contend with, it is often the isolation, the sheer loneliness and the lack of (especially) medical support that frightens one the most in dealing with this affliction.

I am fortunate to have – and I will always be indebted to – Port Elizabeth’s St Francis Hospice for their comfort and support. Especially Sr Gill le Roux, Sr Janice Malkinson and Isaac Ruben need to be thanked for their weekly visits – and Jenny Nickall – for all they do for me, and just for being there!

The Hospice Palliative Care Association of South Africa celebrates 25 years this year, and if ever there is a deserving association that needs your support, then here is one.

Please support them because, let me assure you, that when you have a loved one who experiences a terminal illness, Hospice will definitely be there to support you!

Throughout our country, they promote quality in life, dignity in death and support in bereavement for all people living with life-threatening illness, and also for members of their family.

“Celebrate Partnerships” with them.

 If you feel moved to show your support, simply sms the word HOSPICE to 40772 (R20/sms) and show that you care. (You can visit the webpage for more information.)

IRONically, the word LIFE is made up of two parts LI and FE. Li is the chemical symbol for Lithium and Fe the symbol for IRON.

Lithium is a silver-white metal and under standard conditions is the lightest and least dense solid element that can float on water. It is soft enough to be cut with a knife. The nuclei of lithium verge on instability and the metal is highly reactive and flammable.

When cut open, it exhibits a metallic lustre, but contact with moist air corrodes the surface quickly to a dull silvery gray and then black tarnish.

Pure Iron (Fe) is also soft, but may be significantly hardened and strengthened by impurities from the smelting process – up to 1000 times harder in the form of steel.

Isn’t that LIFE? Soft as we may be as human beings, we are also very unstable and highly reactive. And we are hardened by the challenges and impurities that life throws at us. But at our core, we are still soft and we can exhibit lustre by showing that we do care.

Africans talk about UBUNTU: we are because of them! So as we celebrate being men of iron, let’s also show that we do have some lithium in us, too!

*(Interestingly, lithium salts have proved to be useful as a mood-stabilising drug due to neurological effects of the ion in the human body.)