Mhlengi Gwala lined up at the inaugural Discovery Tough Mudder obstacle-course race in Elgin six months after surviving a brutal chainsaw attack.
The friendly Durban-based triathlete took on the eight-kilometre course that included 11 obstacles.
The scar below his right calf tells just half of the story which unfolded in March this year when three men nearly dismembered Gwala with a chainsaw.
Gwala was attacked during the early hours during a training ride near Cato Manor, and his assailants hacked through 80 percent of his shin bones.
After the attack, Gwala dragged himself to the side of the road where he waved down a security vehicle.
It is easy to empathise with Gwala, while the thought of the pain he had to endure fills one with horror.
His recovery would have been anything but a breeze and he still faces frustrating days of rehabilitation.
Doing the Tough Mudder with Gwala put his fight in perspective, as we faced the same obstacles over the same distance.
It is perhaps an ode to his competitive nature that, with the exception of a limp, Gwala showed no sign of struggling.
He moved past other competitors and climbed over obstacles and crawled under barbed wire like everybody else.
Navigating the downhills on the gravel roads proved challenging but on the climbs, Gwala was like a diesel engine.
As a relatively fit bugger, I managed to keep up with my team members and moved swiftly on the flat areas.
On the climbs, I took a few walking breathers, with Gwala passing me, showing little evidence of taking the strain.
It is in that moment that Gwala’s built-in mental toughness dawns on me. You do not survive an ordeal like his without possessing incredible fortitude.
We crossed the line together, with me gaining an immense respect for Gwala and others who have overcome incredible odds.
The ability to walk must have seen as an insurmountable task six months ago, but look at Gwala now.
Gwala is in the process of reinventing himself and will be able to compete in the C4 para-cycling classification.
His next goal will be to reach the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics which would be an incredible feat considering the dark place Gwala has to escape.
While Gwala is slowly but surely recovering physically from the horror, the emotional scars could remain for years and may never really go away.
Fortunately, he has good people looking after him, with training partner and close friend Sandile Shange supporting him every step of the way.
Shange completed the Tough Mudder with Gwala, and the duo seem inseparable – with the former fulfilling a mentor role.
Their friendship proves we do not have to fight our battles on our own.@ockertde