How TTOM took this remarkable runner from alcohol addiction and despair to claiming his life back
18 July 2023
From attempting to take his life to making the finish line his Conquer moment, the story of Denver van der Bergh, a 46 year-old Capetonian who has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for more than half his life, is everything inspiring moments are made of. Thanks to running, he had a lifeline to recovery and sustained sobriety
It’s the start line of the 2023 Totalsports Two Oceans Ultra Marathon and Denver van der Bergh is about to conquer his first ultra in 5h15. Hard to imagine then that just three short years back, he was at the lowest point of his life. Struggling with alcoholism, he had decided there was no point in waking up for ‘tomorrow’, whatever ‘tomorrow’ might be.
“I have always struggled with alcohol abuse, but it wasn’t until I hit rock bottom that I realised drugs were just as much of an issue,” explains Denver. “I had, in my mind, nothing left to live for anymore and I attempted to take my life.”
It took an intervention from those closest to him in his corner, a life-saving trip to rehab and the promise of a job waiting for him once he got clean, for Denver to begin his brave route to recovery.
Once in rehab, Denver knew he had been given his ‘now or never moment’ and it persuaded him to embrace the programme, rather than resist it. “I started joining the daily walks that the centre offered around the grounds. We would have fun. Soon we started racing each other, and I remembered how much I used to love running in school,” says Denver.
Turning things around was going to be tough – but Denver was determined to do it, one hour at a time at first, spurred on by what would become his life-line: running.
Running becomes his first healthy addiction
Running became a key point of his recovery, almost the way one uses meditation, explains Denver: “Running helps me to stay on my path of recovery to keep clean, it clears my mind, and helps me focus”. Once the running bug took hold, it became the first healthy addition in Denver’s life.
After building a fitness base, and getting stronger, Denver decided that it was time to set himself some running goals. Soon, he’d set his sights on the Totalsports Two Oceans Ultra Marathon as his golden target.
“Setting the Totalsports Two Oceans Marathon as an ‘accountability goal’ kept me sober and got me through some pretty dark moments. I was able to just keep my eyes and mind focused,” says Denver.
The wheels come off after the half-way mark
Denver started the race strong, but when he got to the half-way mark, the proverbial wheels started falling off. He was slowing down, depleted of power in the legs. Watching runners go past him, it felt to him that he was at a complete standstill. That familiar feeling of angst crept in as Denver’s hopes of claiming that finish he so desperately wanted faded fast.
He defiantly #KeepsPushing
It was to be a sarcastic comment from a fellow runner that would give him the push he needed. Asking him if he regretted being there, now that he knew what he had gotten himself into, helped turn Denver’s switch back on. Drive and determination to complete what he had started kicked in like never before.
“It is a moment that I will never forget. I realised that for the first time in my life, I was where I really wanted to be and doing something that I really wanted to do. I was finally doing something for me, to make me happy. I was not going to be a victim – for the very first time, I was going to back myself. I knew I had to be my own biggest supporter. This gave me renewed strength, and I was able to finish in a good time.”
Asking Denver if he will be back in 2024 to run again, his response is everything that #ConquerTheCurrent, the race mantra, encapsulates:
“The Two Oceans will always remind me of the fact that I am enough. I’m not just here to survive but also to compete in the real world. My wish is for anyone else also struggling out there, to realise this.
“With consistency and small steps at first, you can conquer your personal struggles. Personally, I will always be back to run to remind myself that no matter what, the only way is climbing that ‘hill’ and then making my way to the euphoria of the finish line. Then I will be able to remind myself, ‘Nothing can conquer me. I did it. I conquered the current and that is all and everything that matters’.”