Long Run to Freedom
Hylton Dunn, a reformed drug addict, has turned his life around, giving him the freedom to pursue the things in life he holds most dear – including marathon running.
06 January 2011 | Ernest Wolmarans
Reformed drug addict Hylton Dunn has replaced one addiction with another, swapping the needle for a set of running shoes.
Head boy of Pinegrove Primary in 1992, Rowhill resident Hylton matriculated from Saint Andrew’s College in Bloemfontein in 1997, an academic achiever, a competent marathon runner and an excellent squash player, having represented state and province in the past.
“I had it all. A good family, good matric results, a promising career in professional squash…” explains Hylton. “But things came almost too easily. I lacked challenge and purpose in my life. I thought, ‘What’s the point? There must be more to it than this’,” he adds.
Having developed an experimental attitude in search of a way to fill the emptiness he felt, Hylton’s substance addiction began at high school with cigarettes and alcohol. “We’d hide behind the pavilion and light up – the start of a greater addiction that almost took my life,” he adds.
Graduating to marijuana in his first year of study at the University of Cape Town in 1998, Hylton’s grades slowly began to decline. “Marijuana made me lazy and lethargic and my grades suffered. I didn’t care. All I could think of was the next fix – that temporary euphoria that would fill the gaping hole I felt inside of me,” he explains.
Hylton gave in to peer pressure from friends at university and started on heroin in 1999. “I was hooked, line and sinker, from the very first time,” he recalls.
His addiction grew deeper as time went on and it showed in his grades. “My parents suspected that I might have been on drugs because of my marks. They found out for sure when my brother caught me high on moonflowers (a garden plant with narcotic effects) during a surprise visit to varsity. They intervened, sitting me down and telling me that I was throwing everything away. I agreed but I wasn’t sincere. I was too far in at that point,” explains Hylton.
Having dropped out of university midway through his second year, Grenville, Hylton’s father, offered Hylton employment at his chemical engineering firm in an effort to take him under his wing. While earning a small salary, Hylton continued using hard drugs, including heroin, crack and mandrax – bought off of Springs’ streets, sometimes spending as much as R2 000 a day. With his addiction spiralling deeper out of control, he soon turned to shoplifting and cellphone theft in the CBD as a means to supplement his growing need for drugs.
His deeds did not go unnoticed and his first time behind bars was instigated by his father. “I didn’t care where the money came from or who I had to hurt to get it,” explains Hylton. “Even if it meant stealing from my family,” he continues.
His time in jail had little effect, however, as mere weeks after release he was again arrested for shoplifting, spending his 22nd birthday in jail.
Released on condition that he complete a rehabilitation programme at Noupoort Christian Care Centre in the Northern Cape towards the end of 2002, Hylton went through the motions with little conviction. “I went because I had to, not because I wanted to. Within months of getting back, I was back on drugs, stealing and sleeping on the streets, away from my parents. I didn’t care what I looked like and I ate just enough to sustain myself. All that mattered was the next high,” says Hylton.
Hylton made the decision to turn his back on drugs in early 2003 when he again found himself in jail cells: this time with hardened criminals. “Constant threats of rape. Regular beatings. It was within those four walls that I decided that enough was enough and that I would give Noupoort a second chance,” he says.
Returning to the centre proved successful as Hylton’s new-found attitude and faith saw him through the two-year programme, emerging a rehabilitated drug addict at the end of 2004 and finding strength through his newly forged relationship with God. He repaid his debt to the centre by joining as a staff member for the next six years, helping those in whom he saw himself.
He rekindled his love of running, participating in numerous marathons and half marathons since 2005, eventually building up the strength to win the 2008 and 2009 Big Five off-road marathons, as well as the Addo Elephant 100-mile marathon in 2008.
“Running reminds me of the freedom that I now have over myself and my choices – freedom that I once lost,” smiles Hylton. He returned to his parents’ Rowhill home in September last year, rejoined his father’s firm as a laboratory tester, plans to start his own business and aspires to complete his degree through correspondence.
Hylton has made himself available for counselling. “I might not have a formal qualification but I have been through the hell of drug addiction. I know what it’s about and I’m living proof that anything is possible through Jesus Christ. There is always hope, for myself and others,” he concludes.
Hylton may be contacted at 072 529 2747
Wild Coast Ultra Day1
Atfer a comfortable Sunday nights rest at the beautiful Cremorne Estate, on the Mzimvubu River, Port St Johns, we all got back into the mini-buses to be driven to the start at Silaka Reserve.
With an informal 5,4,3,2,1, Dave set approx 30 of us off to the start of the Wild Coast Ultra, a 6 Day crazy trail run following coastline all the way to East London, some 270 km if the correct routes are chosen.
Phillipo Farralla and myself shot off down the hill to the sea, where we ran along a brief rocky beach before climbing Heartbreak Hill, the hill where I got mugged whilst scouting 2 weeks ago. The scenary beyond Sugarloaf rock was absolutely amazing. Having company now was great and we could put heads together and make some route choices. Reaching the Mngazi river we were welcomed with a strong flowing current out to sea, as the tide was on its way out. This happened also a Umgazana, about 5 km further on. It was here that we parted, and I went out to tackle the tricky section to Mpande. Initially I managed to find most of the PSJ to Coffee Bay hiking trail’s arrows painted on rocks, poles etc, until I approched a thick forest section 6km before Mpande.When all arrows disappered and the tracks into the forrest became no more, I realised that I would need to backtrack. I seemed to get lost further through the forest and I anticpated a long, unproductive day ahead. I could only pray, stay calm and work my way out this mess. Eventually I found the last arrow, took a different route and found myself on a local soccer field, where I realised I could now make some progress. I lost aprox 30-40 min. From here all paths led to Mpande, where i caught Phillipo. He was looking strong, and is a seasoned athlete, having a couple of big wins under his belt.
We pushed on together for a while and then I broke away on way to Rame’s Head. At this point all the cloud cover dissappered, and temperatures and humidity rose. I believe it got to 31 degrees. Navigataion to Hluleka and on the Mtakatya was OK, and decided to swim the long Mtakatya River from deep down in the Mangroves. The water was cool and refreshing and approaching the bank I stepped on some fish I think which whiplashed my lower right leg causing me to jump out the water and resulting in instant cramps right through both legs where 40km of technical terrain and the heat had now taken its toll. As all my magnesium pills were finished, I had to settle for some sea water which was washed down with plain water. It worked like a bomb and I could continue to Mdumbi. approx 5 km before the backpackers, the whole body was in pain with thoughts of walking the next 10km to Anchorage hotel, the finish. This was where a local God-sent Xhosa boy came running past me, barefoot and with his sandals in hand. He said he was on his way to Mdumbi River, approx 3km further down. He had no knife, so I knew this time my cell phone and cash was safe! I never had an idea what my time was, but I knew I was probably close to Steve Blacks phenomenal record of 7hr43 min for Day 1, 55km. Steve couldnt make it this year due to his preparations for the Alaska 100 miler.
Anchorage hotel was not going to be far from Mdumbi backpackers, where I had the best coke of my life, as I was on the verge of dehydration, since my last refuelling was done 15km back at Hluleka. It was just a matter of grin and bear it to the hotel where I clocked 7hr52 min, finished just after 2pm and mere 9min shy of the record. Phillipo arrived some 70 min later and the 2 of us incl all the others had a tough day. My room mate, Yul Milbert arrived at midnight, and I was totally oblivious to him showering etc. His dad, Siegfried was still out there somewhere before Mdumbi. We all had dinner and to bed straight away ahead of another tough 2nd day. Most importantly thanks to Jesus for the safety of all the athletes undertaking this long, and crazy adventure and to all you guys out there thinking, praying and supporting us. More to follow later……..
Wild Coast Ultra Day 2
Day 2 – 54 km. Anchorage Hotel to Haven Hotel, Tuesday
We departed Anchorage at 6H15 am so that we could get to Mthatha River by 6H30 in time to be ferried across this deep and wide river. All went according to plan, I shot off quickly so that I could get across quickly but the ferryman was still sleeping on the other bank. By the time he lifted anchor and rowed himself across, the whole mob of athletes arrived. So the first seven runners went first and some brave ones swam across the 100m river. The R7 fee was still worth it.
A heavy climb up the opposite bank and then 6km to coffee bay followed, the first time so far that we had the luxury of running on a road. Out through coffee bay and along to White clay and then we contoured the spectacular slopes leading along the small and big Hole in the Wall. The views here are really breathtaking. Arriving at hole in the wall, the spaza shop’s cokes were warm and the hotel kiosk hadn’t opened yet, so I had to settle for some ice cold water. Later a domestic brought me a cold can of coke so she got a generous tip. Then it was off to cross the river a big hole in the wall and straight up a hill which went up and down a couple of climbs and valleys all the way to Mbolompo Point. Managed to refuell with a 1.25 L coke for R10! at a spaza store. From there it was on and off the beach to Mpame and then alot of rocky and hill contouring to Bulungulu Backpackers. Chel, Sean and salome were resting out there, they were the 3 particpants in the Wild Coast Ultra Lite (200km), which they started at hole in the wall this morning and will finish with us at East London on Saturday. They assisted me with fluids and fruit and I wanted to waste no time to do final 20km. 3km down the beach and i swam the Xhora river, the river that took me about 45 min to cross whilst scouting due to having to got far up the mangroves where the current was weaker. This time I was over within 5 min and off quickly to get to Breezy Point. Here some holiday makers gave me 2L of ioe cold Tropika which was very welcomed. I could now push onto Haven Hotel where I arrived and won in 7hr08 min, managing to improve the record by 20 min.
The heat today was intense, not as bad as yesterday though and all seemed to finish before 9pm. Fillipo was second with a time of just over 9hrs. Roger, Kylie and Ciska were not too far behind Filippo and are having a good race. Filippo and I were spoilt with some roast pork and salads and pasta that was left over from some biker’s function. Our dinner later was awesome and the Kob was tender….man, the food was most welcome and the Haven makes good food.
109 km done in total now and some 160km to go. In a race like this there are so many variables and anything can go wrong and and despite all the obstacles, all runners were accounted for, safe and had a good rest with their tired, stiff and sore legs, ready to tackle 44km on Wednesday
Wild Coast Ultra Day 3
Day 3 – The Haven to Mazeppa Bay – 44 km
After a delicious, fatty and fruity breakfast at the Haven we shot off at 7am for Day 3. Some of us that did our homework raced the 2km to the Mbashee River, as here there were 2 canoes waiting to ferry the runners across the approx 200 m treacherous, dirty and dangerous river. I got a canoe followed by Brandon who got the second. Obviously the rest would now have to wait some time as the ferryman took time to get across as the currents had to be judged and accounted for. I believe that some took a chance and swam, with Yul nearly being washed out. Apparently the canoes were taking far too long, capsizing, rescuing swimmers in trouble that more guys swam to avoid the long wait.
I had managed to get to Dwesa Point quite quickly along the beach even though the sand was soft at high tide. My quads would now be suffering from this and the soft sands of yesterday. The march through the dwesa nature reserve was quite challenging due to technical sections through thick buffalo grass, so high that you could get lost just in the grass, or bump into a rhino thinking it was a brick wall…At points I had to stop to shake off spiders as I found myself clearing their webs through the forests, and checking regularly for ticks. Thankfully just 5km and back to the beach, then out the main reserve gate before refuelling with ice cold water from the office’s cold water vat. Then the long slog began to the Nqabara river that was flowing reasonably strong out to sea. I started swimming upstream and ended close to the mouth on the opposite bank.
From here a quick 5km to Beecham woods where one could get into a consistent rhythm on the hard beach, followed by a grassy, rocky 5km to o Shixini Mouth where lying in the shallow river water for half a minute was the order of the day. Another 5km to Jujura mouth followed, almost smelling Kob Inn just a few more km down the beach where one could get drinks and chow to prepare for the last section to Mazeppa. With aching upper legs and keeping an eye on the clock it was vasbyt to Mazeppa. Blessed with awesome cloudy weather today, I got to Mazeppa in 5hr09 min, and 12 min shy of Steve’s 2010 record. Pearl, from the hotel welcomed me and immediately had some food, cofee, shower, swim and another shower then a lie down. Hoping for the legs to recover for tomorrows stretch to Trennery’s Hotel. The rest of the gang started arriving approx 2hrs later, and Filippo had to tend to his feet and toes that had blistered quite a bit. With a physio on duty tonight at 6pm, I better rush for a rub down……..
Thank you Jesus for divine protection, perseverance and strength to all of us mad-hatters to get through Day 3.
Hylton Dunn – Inspiration to us all.
Wild Coast Ultra Day 4
Day 4, 36km Mazeppa Bay Hotel – Trennery’s Hotel Thursday
The weather today would count in our favour. I awoke at 2am to the sound of rainfall over Mazeppa Bay, which continued for the entire day, a substantial change from the extreme heat and humidity experienced to date.
The rub down and the fantastic breakfast at Mazeppa got me off to a quick start, departing at 7am. Soaking wet from the 1st km, we all made our way straight to the beach where we saw a dead shark and someone wrote in the sand “one less shark to worry about”.
I felt strong and reached Cebe houses (12km) with little effort, then came Wavecrest Hotel 5 km after a rocky river crossing at high tide. Here I saw something floating on the river, then something black appeared beneath me (actually a rock) and in a flash I thought the worse and thought some shark was looking for breakfast. With a quick coke at Wavecrest hotel the route behind the dune bush to Kobonqaba river needed some concentration to find the best track. Here the pace slacked off a bit and then with the river valley in sight I pushed up the pace, as today every minute would count in order to get home ahead of the record time for Day 4.
No time was wasted at Kobanqaba River, which is apparently famous for the many electric rays waiting for us. Laura joked at the breakfast table and said we should put on the Ray Bans when crossing the river…Quickly across the river and off to the rocky beach section sometimes ducking behind the dunes to find a better path, especially after I took a tumble on the now slippery rocks. Fortunately no damage done.
At the passing of the Jacaranda wreck, the rain came down harder and the mission was to get home quickly, so again the pace picked up and with a lovely flat beach that had been hardened by the rain it was awesome to know that only a few kms were left before that hot bowl of soup waiting at Trennery’s.
With thick mist, It was easy to miss the track into the dune bush leading to the hotel after the Qolora River, but thanks to having scouted the route previously, things looked too familiar now and a quick sprint to the hotel followed, finishing first in 3hr06min and bettering the record by 18min.
Everybody seemed happy to get home fairly quickly and are also getting stronger now as the event goes on. As his blistered feet held out today, an elated Filippo arrived just under an hour later followed by the rest. Its awesome to finish a bit earlier than usual and have some time to chill out.. A quick bath and shower then we gathered for tea, coffee, and lots of pub lunches. Its amazing how many calories are burnt and when we get the munchies, it just doesn’t stop.
Today will be the last day in the former Transkei and we have approx 80 km to cover still.
Thanks for all the prayers and support, Its all working and we are all having such an awesome event. Please continue right through till Saturday, as although we now have more navigable terrain to negotiate, anything can still happen. Cheers
Wild Coast Ultra Day 5
The rain continued to fall over Trennery’s for most of yesterday afternoon. Then we got the news that the Kei River Pont won’t be operating due to sluice gates having been opened inland to release water from the flooded catchment areas. So we would then run from Trennery’s Hotel to Kei River and Dave made arrangements for taxis to collect us at the north bank of Kei River and transport us inland to where there would be a bridge and drop us off on the southern bank and then we could continue the race like that, and the crew would be there to take our times. So my plan was to race as quick as possible to Kei River, rest out in the taxi and then race again to Haga Haga.
When we woke up, the sun was out again and I decided to quickly take a walk to check out the best route to get to the beach leading to Kei River. At 7am we had breakfast and we all started together at 8am. By this time we now heard that the pont was open again so the former plans of taxis were cancelled. Now it was just a matter of hoping that by the time I get to Kei that the pont was ready to take whoever was there across quickly with no delays. Fortunately this happened and I only had to wait for Peter and Heidi to drive their 4×4’s onto the pont, then we were off. It was a tough 6km to Kei river with soft, rocky sand at high tide. Quickly onto the pont and quickly off to tackle the next 6km road to Morgan’s Bay. Then another 6km road section to Double Mouth. Here I managed to catch up lots of time as the roads were easier to race than the beach. Then the heat set in again, but fortunately the north wind blew us closer to our destination. The final section of beach running to Haga Haga was quite technical, with one very cold river crossing which was quite welcomed.
With the end in sight 2 km away the sprint began from Marshstrand to Haga Hotel, and I managed to clock 2hr33min, some 21 minutes quicker than the previous record. The other runners started to arrive at the finish 30 min thereafter with a very happy HP comming in 2nd palce today. Cisca (first lady) seems to be running very well and is looking good with only 48 km left now.
With a bit of a rest at hand, we can all get ready for the final day tomorrow which will start of with a 28km beach run, then a brief rest at the Kwelera River (Yellowsands), then to tackle the last 17km surfers marathon in the afternoon.
Wild Coast Ultra Day 6
Today we would have 2 stages as follows:
Haga Haga Hotel – Yellowsands – 28 km
Yellowsands – Nahoon – 18km (Surfers Challenge)
We had such a lovelly display of all types of food for dinner and the same for breakfast. Enough calories for the final day. This morning we all started to feel slightly depressed as this awesome event was into the final day. We were given the freedom to chose what time each one of us would like to kick off (latest 8pm) and with high tide at 9h30am I realised the earlier I get away the better, as the soft sand associated with high tide makes for difficcult running. Some left as early as 6h30am, I left at 7am. Passing a couple of runners, the first 7km was extremely technical with plenty of rock hopping as coastal tracks were minimal, followed by 5km of very unwelcomed soft leading to Cintsa. From there a long beach rounding 2 points comprising of lovelly hard sand and rocky patches where I could lift the pace exercising caution not to blow it too hard so as to preserve some energy for surfers. With the end in sight, and crossing the Kwelera River I felt good and ready for surfers. We had all practically been conditioning ourselves now for multi running, and as Kim van Kets said once, “we are now bulletproof”.
Brandon and HP had good runs and got to Yellowsands in sub 3hrs. I managed to win again in 2hr40min, breaking the record by 7min. Peter had arranged a Gazebo and some tarpaulins which Tallies set up for us. As runners were arriving at different stages, we caught some shade and chilled out waiting for Surfers.
Surfers is always hectic as its a fast race in front with approx 2500 athletes that compete, so the peace and quiet from the trails now falls away and we find ourselves inbetween the masses where the road running atmosphere prevails. We get hosed down by the residents along the road who clearly are experiencing no drought, have watertables every 3-4km, have choppers flying over us filming the event, get cheered on by the masses – it actually feels like a mini comrades. No one can actually understand the extent of the Wild Coast Ultra Journey except for our participants and trying to explain to the fellow surfer’s runners that we just ran from Port St Johns usally brings alot of attention, or some just think we telling lies. In fact throughout our journey we frequently get asked “Where have u just run from, and/or where are you running to?” and then there is a look of amazement on the peoples faces when we answer them, usually followed by “Eish”.
Although there is a big road section in surfers, there is also a fair amount of technical sections which are appreciated by the WCU guys. For me it was the last 3km that stood out where all this running just started to make sense and immediately I was torn apart by emotions. Within 15 min or so, the journey would be over and personal goals achieved. That was something special for me and I’m sure that all the fellow WCU athletes would experience something similar. Having completed the event I took a walk down to the final 100m stretch to watch my fellow runners complete this gruelling event, and for most I noticed the kind-of anti-climax that I too have experienced at the end of such an event. I could see in their expressions that they were generally broken by the tough final stage or they were just too focussed to cross that finish line. This changes very quickly at the WCU tent when the runners realise what has been accomplished, then the celebrations start…..
I managed to win surfers (out of the WCU guys) in 1hr29, taking 4 min off the previous record.
I won the event and my combined time as I calculated is 29hr57min, (could be slighty out as seconds weren’t taken into account) a new record, improving on Steve’s previous record set last year by approx 1hr21min.
Congrats to Ciska Meyer for winning the ladies category in a new record time by quite a big margin, and for finishing 3rd overall…Fantastic
To all this and to to the safety, protection and successes I need to acknowledge that in my own stregth, it would have been impossible. Just over 10 years ago, I lived on the streets blowing each and every cent on drugs and booze esp heroin, I was a chronic addict that nearly died for drugs. My life was a total shambles. I was rehabilitated successfully at the Nouport Christian Care Centre where I handed my life over to Jesus Christ at the time and then found some awesome running tracks in the Karoo where I have based most of my training. I went into each and every stage and stopped at most rivers and thick forests saying a short prayer and I think sometimes we take safety for granted. There were so many dangers that could have crossed our paths, and I thank Jesus that nearly the whole field completed the gruelling event and those that couldnt get there will try again and eventually succeed. Thanks for the friendships and awesome week.