This is the life I have chosen, life well worth living and one well worth sharing.  

Since a young age, I have always been an active person, unable to sit around and watch life go by. Always fit but not always healthy, young and bullet proof without a true understanding of the impact of accumulated stress, smoking and bad eating habits would have on me in the future. The theory was simple, exercise corrects any imbalances, burns off fat, sugar and any excesses. My diet consisted mainly of burgers, chocolate, cola and coffee with a few beers thrown in. In my 30’s a marriage, children and work pressure resulted in exercise taking a back seat with my weight ballooning from 70kg to 88kgs. A few years later a gentle hike with a few minor hills was a major challenge and shocked me into action, I stopped smoking and took up cycling at age 40 and at 47 started running and swimming again.

I had turned my health around with exercise and a healthy diet but failed to address the stress. In 2009, while competing in a mountain bike race, I withdrew with a fever, the cause, later identified as the Coxsackie virus, which in turn resulted in Viral Myocarditis and damage to the heart. After a 6 month well managed recuperation, I was running and training again but at a lower intensity.

On the 2nd April 2010 I ran an 8km trail run with the intention of doing a 21.1km road race the following day. 4km into the trail run, I felt dizzy and sat down to rest. I did not get up. Due to the inclement weather and rough terrain, the medics took over an hour to reach me and another 3.5 hours to get me to a hospital. In the process I flatlined and was resuscitated after a few tries. For the more technically minded, this was the result of a total blockage in the dominant coronary artery and an eccentric 60% lesion in the proximal left anterior descending artery. The main contributors being diet, stress and the previous years of smoking.

My recovery was slow and tough. A simple trip to the bathroom was a major event. It took a month to walk 50 meters without stopping for resting. Stairs were a major challenge. They still leave me a bit breathless.. The consensus by doctors, family and friends, was that my activities would be restricted to gentle walks, birdwatching, stamp collecting and bridge. This was a huge step backwards for me, a previously very active person. In addition to the prospect of no physical outlet, I was battling with short and long term memory loss, unable to perform basic mathematical calculations, unable to think in a logical and critical manner. A year later I was diagnosed with damage to the frontal lobe as a result of a shortage of oxygen to the brain from the MI. Strangely enough, I could tell jokes and write poetry, a new skill, but could not read a set of financials. No-one quite understood what I was facing, which left me isolated and struggling, which contributed in large to me personal life and business falling apart.

In the midst of the storm, I decided the only way forward was to tackle life head on and started with exercise, This was something I could understand and control, setting small targets starting with 10 minutes on an indoor trainer. My exercise regime drew a lot of negativity from people close to me, the response was simple, “I would rather die living than live dying” which is till my mantra today.

In late 2010, while doing research on exercise and heart disease , I came across David Watkins’s inspirational journey. This was confirmation that I was heading in the right direction. Subsequently, I joined the Ironheart Team. Since then, I have received unconditional ongoing support and inspiration first from the original Ironheart members and then the new members who join daily. I am still amazed and motivated daily by the team’s journeys and accomplishments. There is an incredible bond that has formed between people that have never met, sharing ups and downs, being supported and supporting others from all around the globe. It has been truly amazing!
Looking back, life will never be the same, it has been tough, still is tough and the training, even tougher. Smashing through barriers is incredibly satisfying, communicating with likeminded people is even better, helping others is the best of all.

This is the life I have chosen, life well worth living and one well worth sharing.

– Bill Van Hoogstraten