Inspirational Runner: Luzelle van der Merwe
Meet Luzelle van der Merwe, who suffered three strokes at 18 years of age and vowed to one day run for those who could not run themselves. This is her story…
In 1999 I suffered three big strokes. I was just 18 years old and matriculated the year before.
I was in ICU for 11 days, of which seven were spent in a medically induced coma to help with the worsening swelling in my brain.
The doctors prepared my parents for the worst and told them almost daily that I might not live through the night. But when they removed my ventilator a week later, expecting the worst, they were astonished to discover that I could breathe on my own.
The doctors told my parents I wouldn’t survive. I proved them wrong.
After being transferred from ICU to a normal ward, I remained in hospital for a month. But then the physio and occupational therapy began. It was incredibly hard in the beginning, but a few months later I was ready to resume my life and seize the day.
I started my “new life” by doing a Diploma course in Pastel, which I passed with distinction. But that wasn’t enough – and barely a year after my triple stroke, I participated in the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour (now Cape Town Cycle Tour) in 2000, and went on to ride a few more. I also continued my studies and did a Basic Ambulance Assistance course, followed by a Certificate in Sports Psychology, Sport Medicine and Sport Nutrition.
I gymmed every day as it kept my muscles strong after the strokes. One day my brother asked if I wanted to run with him. It took me a few months to pluck up the courage to join him, but I started running only 400m. Soon it became 800m and then I set my first running goal: to finish a 5km run. Soon after reaching that goal, I aimed for 10km and after about 2 years I was ready to tackle my first Half Marathon.
People advised me to not jump from 10km to 21km, but I proved them wrong again.
While recovering from my strokes, I used to say that I would one day run for people who couldn’t. My first inspiration came from a guy who did physio with me – he was in a really bad car accident and went from being an active runner to struggling to walk. “One day I will run for you,” I promised him.
I made that good on that promise when I ran my first Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon in 2014. It was the best race ever. I was so happy. I ran for those who couldn’t. I ran to celebrate my faith and to prove wrong the doctors and specialists from all those years ago.
Today I dedicate my life to inspire others. To not give up. Don't give up on hope. There is always hope. No matter how small – even if it’s just a flicker – never give up! The path I walk today is not always smooth, but with faith and hope by my side, I will continue to dream.
To be inspired is great. To inspire others is an honour.
NEVER GIVE UP HOPE!