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It would never happen to me……..

It would never happen to me……..

Define Risk; –  A probability or a threat of damage, injury, loss, or any other negative occurrence that is caused by external or internal vulnerabilities, and that may be avoided through preemptive action.

I have always been a risk taker, and at times I have put myself in harms way while out trail running, or durning open water swims and surfski paddling. I would not say that I am reckless, however, reflecting on an incident about 3 years ago, I look back and think just how naive I was. In an instant, your life could change dramatically, affecting not only yourself, but those in your life who deeply care for you. To make my point, I will tell you about my other love, surfski paddling.

SurfskiI am living in Dubai, and we are fortunate to have the Persian Gulf right on our doorstep, a playground for water sport enthusiasts. The water is warm throughout the year, and compared to the sea back in South Africa, a lake. We only get rough seas during the winter months, and even then the waves are relatively small as the Dubai coastline is protected by massive artificial island, blocking out most of the rough seas. I have always been in love with the sea, and love the freedom it offers when I am out swimming and paddling. I bought a brand new Fenn surfski and a carbon fibre paddle, and within no time I was out on the water, working on improving my technique and catching swell when it is available. One thing I did not invest in was a lifejacket, I mean, why would I need a lifejacket? The sea here is “safe”, I am a good open water swimmer and would be able to swim ashore should anything happen to my surfski. My wife was forever on my case to get a lifejacket, and I would always agree to get one next time I am at the outdoor shop. Almost every single paddler I know goes out without a lifejacket. When in Rome, do as the Romans.

In my previous job I was off on a Sunday/Monday, so most of the time I would go out on the water on my ace as everyone else would be at work. I would go out without telling anyone and be out there for a couple of hours paddling around the World Islands, being all alone on the water at a distance of around 3-5km offshore, with only a a bottle of water, a hat, sunnies and a speedo. My utopia.

On an April morning, I was home alone getting ready for a paddle. My wife left for work a couple of hours before and I told her I might go out for a paddle. I got all my gear together and walked outside. It was super humid, and I took a few moments to decide if I was going to brave to humidity and burning sun. Kicking myself for not going out earlier in the morning, I head back inside to the comfort of the air conditioned apartment. I plonk myself down on the sofa to catch up on TV, and then in an instant I feel a surge of electricity run through my left hand, up my arm and into my face. All I remember is thinking, am I having a stroke, cant be, I am too young….?

I woke up a few hours later, dazed and confused. My tongue feels swollen and I can taste blood in my mouth. Did I just fall of the sofa in my sleep. I am confused. I phone Fiona, and ask her if it was my day off as I am not sure if I should be at work. Fi confirms its my day off and asks if I am ok. I put the phone down and slowly it start coming back to me. I remember the electricity in my hand, the feeling of not being able to control my body, and blacking out. I call Fi again, and tell her that I think I need to go to the hospital, something happened…..

After numerous tests and MRI’s, the doctor tells me I had a seizure. This was the first time in my life I had a seizure, and all the tests came back normal. Scan shows normal brain activity with no epileptic signals and for the next 3 years I would see a neurologist every three months, and take Keppra medicine. After the seizure I sat down and had the realisation that I might have died that day if I decided to go ahead and go for my paddle. Millions of things went through my head, all of a sudden I was so scared of the ocean, and it took me a long time to go back. I also bought a lifejacket.

Every time I go out on the water, or go for a trail run, I always call my wife and tell her what I am doing.  People sometimes under estimate trail running, and believe it or not, every time you head out on the trail for a run, you are taking on a degree risk. There are many things that could happen to you while you out on the trail and I will touch on a few points you need to keep in mind when heading out for a run;

  1. Where possible, always try and run with another person. A dog is a great running partner.
  2. If you are heading out alone, make sure to tell someone your planned route and stick to it. Pick a trail that is not to technical and not too far from help. Remember the movie 127 Hours (just saying)
  3. Carry an ID and any medical information should you need emergency assistance.
  4. Check the weather. It is very easy to get caught out by bad weather. Make sure you are wearing the correct clothing for the conditions you will be running in.
  5. Always carry food and enough water, even on shorter runs. You never know how long you will have to wait for help should you get injured.
  6. Carry a small first aid kit with you, stash it inside the bladder compartment and check it regularly to make sure it is dry and usable.
  7. Carry a phone with you, fully charged. Be aware that people might target you to steal electronics, so a cheap old Nokia will do.
  8. Leave your music at home. You need to be able to hear if there is someone behind you and be aware of your surroundings.
  9. Ladies with ponytails, keep it in a bun or inside a Buff as it is easy for an attacker to pull you to the ground by your hair.
  10. If your are alone and get attacked, look for the quickest way to escape, making as much noise as possible. Always carry whistle.
  11. Mix up your running schedule, follow different routes, head out at different times where possible. It is easy for attackers to track your movement if you do the same route over and over.
  12. Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, it is likely that something is about to go south.
  13. Be confident when someone approaches you, show intent to defend yourself.
  14. Run with pepper spray, just be aware that it could be used against you. Never show it to an attacker, use it at the very last moment if the person moves towards you.
  15. S.I.N.G – If you ever watched the Sandra Bullock movie, “Miss Congeniality,” you will remember her demonstration of self-defense at the beauty pageant talent show. “Remember to sing,” is her line and it stands for four vulnerable parts of a person: solar plexis, instep, nose, groin. If you are attacked from behind self-defense experts tell you to elbow your attacker in the stomach, stomp on their instep, turn and shove the heel of your hand up their nose, then knee their groin. Put up a good fight.
  16. Take care in areas that are known for snakes and other dangerous animals. Should you get bitten by a snake, try and identify the snake, and stay calm. Call for help. 

Our sport gives us the freedom to escape the real world for a couple of hours. Just make sure you stay safe and look after yourself, your family and friends are counting on you to do so.


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Adam Du Plooy

I am a passionate South African trail runner living in Dubai. I completed the 250km Marathon Des Sables in 2010 and look forward to running various multi stage races over the next few years.
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About The Author

I am a passionate South African trail runner living in Dubai. I completed the 250km Marathon Des Sables in 2010 and look forward to running various multi stage races over the next few years.

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