Comrades 1996 was going to be a good one for Bert Davids. He just didn’t know it at the time. A few years before he was lucky to escape with his life from a serious car accident. His family was grateful that the head of the family was spared and accepted the doctor’s warning that he might not walk properly again due to irreversible damage to his knee. Small price to pay to have your husband and father back!
Bert was not so satisfied with the verdict. In fact, he told the doctor that he intends to run again. He was under no illusion that is was going to be easy, but as a man used to having to work and fight for things, he was up for the challenge. After all, he build his own business, Sugarbird Sweets, and was no stranger to hearing “it can’t be done” when he was dreaming big.
Initially things were tough – Bert’s first run was a lap and a half around his tennis court as it was all he could manage! Slowly but surely though Bert showed good progress. No, he showed great progress! The shuffling turned into walking, and the walking turned into running, and in time Bert’s thoughts turned to the ultimate comeback event – the Comrades marathon.
In his attempt to realise this dream he continually came up short, and running with a slight limp did not help. Bert was not much of a complainer so persevered as much as his knowledge and experience allowed. At some stage we all need a bit of help and after a few failed attempts at achieving the 4h30min qualifying time in those days, he decided to look for help. When Bert came knocking on our door we were blown away by his determination. His quiet confident demeanour was contagious and we set out to help this great man (in character and stature) to get past the irritation of not qualifying. The plan was to qualify at the 5th edition of the Om die dam 50km. The qualifying time over 50km was a bit more lenient than that for a 42km race, and great was Bert’s, and our, delight when he reported back with a 5h50min finish – 10 minutes to spare!
One of our athletes, Keith Reynolds, had the mantra that took him to a silver at Comrades in 2011 – “Believe to achieve, achieve to believe”.
Bert had belief and faith that he could qualify, but once he qualified, his belief soared even more! The next stop was a popular downhill race in Mphumalanga, the Elands Valley marathon. By now brimming with confidence and new-found fitness levels, Bert stormed to a 4h18min marathon! From not being able to qualify the previous year, he soared to a wonderful marathon best time and his confidence levels were peaking in the build up to the 1996 Up Run.
So many times we are set back by the enormity of the task ahead of us, not to mention the gentle reminders of well-meaning friends that your nice dream might just be a bridge too far. Another great man who was unswayed by the constrained beliefs of the masses, was Nelson Mandela. “It is always impossible until it is done”, is still one of his most quoted sayings.
Believing and moving ahead when those around you are resigned to the “normal” was what Bert was all about! So determined was he not to make mistakes on the day that he practiced taking drinks from his wife, Claire, running up and down the passage in his hotel room the night before!
The following day, at 6h00 on that crisp Durban morning, with a healthy dose of respect for the big race, Bert started the journey accepting that receiving that bronze medal will only be a certainty when he crosses the finish line.
Bert also discovered, as so many thousands who have completed the same journey on foot, Comrades is the worst day and the best day of your life all rolled into one. So, 89 dramatic kilometres later, when he made his way down the final straight on the grass in Pietermaritzburg, with Claire waiting anxiously beyond the barriers, cheering with a mixture of joy, relief and elation. By then the tears were streaming down Bert’s cheeks as he crossed the finish line in 10h53min. Bert was rewarded for his tenacity and his hard work, but most of all for believing that it was possible.
We all know that success breeds success and Bert went on to complete 3 more successful Comrades marathon finishes before he had to face his final battle. He was diagnosed with a debilitating brain tumour, and was taken home to heaven a bit before his time, but not before he gave so many of us around him also our fair share of the belief that if you can dream it, of course it is possible!