'I ran from the pain of dad's suicide - then I ran to cope'
It's been a long road for Sowetan who pounds the pavement in aid of mental health and suicide prevention
When Zanele Hlatshwayo crossed the finish line of the 160km Washie race in the Eastern Cape on Sunday, July 28, the Sowetan had run 648km (18 races in six months) to raise money for mental health and suicide prevention.
Her father, Phillip, took his own life when she was 24, and Hlatshwayo said: “He was a very strong person. I never thought this could happen. He was my hero, there for me every step of the way.
“He never missed a parents’ meeting, prizegiving or any graduation ceremony. He taught me that I could be anything I want to be ... He was always there until that one fateful morning, a morning that changed my life forever: the day my dad took his life.“It took me 10 years to talk about it. I could not accept it. At first, I was running away from the pain, the suffocating rage, but eventually running became a coping mechanism, which to this day has become my sacred space where I get to heal, clear my head, but most of all where I get to conquer.
“If I can run 26 hours non-stop in the Washie, what else can I not do?
“I have a fulltime job working for Google SA; I am a YouTube specialist, and I travel a lot. I had to fit in training at night, on the highways, in the cold. I didn’t anticipate it would be this difficult.
“I started the Washie with an injury and 30km in I was in so much pain, but I didn’t say anything. That is what it is like for people with depression: they suffer silently, alone. I missed the cut-off time by 3km, but I finished and limped across the line.
“I have raised about R132,392 so far for (the South African Depression and Anxiety Group’s) national suicide toll-free hotline out of the R180,000 target. My campaign closes at the end of August.“This journey has been a physical and emotional rollercoaster, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. On a daily basis people have shared their stories with me. They have sent messages and I have had many requests to speak about my journey.
“I have found strength in my vulnerability and a way to deal with my father’s tragedy through those who have shared their pain.
“I feel I’ve hardly scratched the surface and I may continue with this next year, but now I need a break.
“I have a passion to save others. If my campaign saves one life, my purpose on Earth would have been fulfilled.”
– Additional reporting by Zane Groenewald, founder of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.