My Journey To Hike The Otter Hiking Trail

I have recently returned from hiking the Otter Trail in the Tsitsikamma National Park. It was an arduous five days that took me into deep ravines and to high mountain peaks, cool forest trails and exposed rock faces along the coast. What an amazing experience it was to hike this wonderful part of our country. I finished this wonderful hike and although it was tough, I felt great and would do it again in a heat beak.

While I may have completed the hike just the other day, my journey to the Otter Hiking Trail started a few years ago when on an ordinary day at work, I suffered a stroke. I had been taking medication for hypertension; I was on my fifth bout of bronchitis for the year, and I was experiencing many of the symptoms that are so often experienced by obese people. My weight was 169kg and my BMI was 56. I was clinically diagnosed as being morbidly obese.

With less than ten days to go to the first World Soccer Cup to be played on African soil and everyone running around buying vuvuzelas by the score, soccer jerseys and getting into the atmosphere that surrounds a tournament of this magnitude, I suddenly found myself lying in the ICU of our local hospital. I had not been in a hospital in many years, but I knew from the faces that were staring down at me that I was not in a good place in terms of my condition. Doctors were calling consultants who were calling specialists and surgeons who in turn were ordering one test after the other to be performed so that the extent of my condition could be determined.

Photo of me BEFORE
Anyone who has been in this situation will tell you that your mind is filled with all the possibilities and the likelihood that you may not walk out of the hospital, suddenly becomes very real. I thought about my family and especially my grandchildren and I was filled with a deep sense of sadness that I would not be able to spend any more time with them should I die. There was still so much that I wanted to do but I was not sure if I would get the time to do them. I had been warned, but like most, the warnings went unheeded. My weight had spiralled out of control.

 While lying in ICU with oxygen flowing in my nostrils and drips in my veins, I made up my mind that I would take every opportunity presented to me to overcome the situation; I would listen to the doctors and comply with their instructions. The cardiologist and neurologist were very concerned about my weight and together, they arranged for Dr Potgieter to come and see me, and in his usual tactful way, Doctor Potgieter laid it on the line for me. He introduced me to the possibility of undergoing bariatric surgery as an aid to my weight loss programme and, this is where my journey to the Otter Hiking Trail started.


The initial recovery was long, and I was at home recovering while the world’s best soccer teams did battle in our new stadiums. It was during this time that I started attending the Bariatric Surgery Support Group Meetings. I did not have much to say at the meetings and was not even sure about what questions I wanted to ask. Every question that someone else asked was a good one and the answers were not always what you wanted to hear but they were honest, and they were sincere.

I went for the evaluations with the psychiatrist and the dietician as well as with Dr Potgieter, the neurologist, and my cardiologist and together they supported my application for the surgery. My medical aid turned down my application for authorisation and it took a further three months of motivating to get the approvals in place. Even though everything was falling into place, I was not sure if I could or even wanted to go through with the operation. I had researched everything I could, I was still attending the support group meeting, but I knew, that in the end, it had to be my decision because it was going to be my journey. It took a full eight months for me to be certain that I not only wanted to but could take on this journey and so began the next phase of my journey to hike the Otter Trail.

On Friday, 29th April 2011, I reported to the N1 City Hospital having decided that if I was going to get my life back, and that I needed to do whatever it takes to do so. Since the stroke, I had been taking a multitude of tablets for a variety of complaints that are synonymous with obese people. These included blood pressure pills, blood thinners, asthma pumps, cholesterol tablets, etc.

I remember being wheeled down the passage to the operating theatre and thinking to myself, if you are not sure, now is the time to say so. But, I had made my resolve and when I woke up after the operation my first thought was, you are now committed. The journey has started.

 My initial experiences were no different to many post-operative bariatric surgery patients. Some things agreed with me, and some things didn’t. You stuck to the rules and the eating plan, and the transformation begins. It may not have been evident to me at first, but it certainly was to people around me. People who had never spoken to me before were greeting, or even stopping to a conversation. Whether or not I told them was entirely up to me and I could choose who and when I disclosed the path I had chosen.

A few months after the operation my physical needs started to change and I needed to get out and stretch my legs, something I had not done in a long time. I got into a walking routine and then added some gym work to this. Nothing serious but just making sure that I try to keep the muscles in tone while exercising the body. My clothing size was changing rapidly and I had gone from a size 6XL shirt to an XL. My trousers were a size 38 from the 56 that I had been wearing.


I was eight months post-op when some friends invited me to join them on a hike. They had booked the Otter Hiking Trail and there was a space for me if I wanted it. I had hiked for many years and was familiar with the Otter Trail. I also knew that it was not an easy hike, and required a certain level of fitness and stamina.

 This then became my goal, and as I exercised, it became the one thing that was foremost in my mind, will I be ready when the time comes?

 In the final weeks leading up to our departure to the Tsitsikamma Park, I went to see my cardiologist for a check-up. I must also mention at this time that on the advice of my cardiologist, I was no longer taking any blood thinners, blood pressure or cholesterol tablets. I have never had another bout of bronchitis and I was no longer using an asthma pump. The cardiologist gave me a clean bill of health for the Otter hike. My next step was to go see Doctor Potgieter for my annual post-operative check. Again, everything was good. Judy Kotze, my dietician, was very excited by my progress and the upcoming Otter hike. Judy wanted to make sure I had the right nutrition for the hake and very kindly referred me to a dietician at the Sports Science Institute who could help me with my eating plan. Following a thorough assessment, I was given an eating plan for the hike.

And so it was that I found myself on Monday morning, 23 July 2012, a few days short of fifteen months since my bariatric surgery took place with a 19kg rucksack on my back, about to start the five-day Otter Trail. My BMI; 32, my weight; 105kg.


Photo of me 15 months post-op