The trouble with being stabbed, assuming you survive, isn’t so much the knife that goes into you. No, the real trouble is the mess of thoughts it leaves behind– thoughts, in my case, far harder to deal with than the physical injuries.
I was walking back from watching England lose a one-day international against South Africa at the gorgeous Newlands cricket ground in Cape Town in February 2016. And I was stupid. I made bad decision after bad decision. I carried on walking when I should have walked back, and I walked straight into danger – danger quickly realised.
In a ghastly, grim, crime-ridden suburb, I was stabbed twice in the leg by a mugger demanding my camera. The weird thing is that the stabs felt like punches, which is probably why I fought back. I pulled him to the ground, where he started kicking me in the back, which was the moment I looked down to see my leg was awash with blood. No, those punches most definitely weren’t punches.
I let go of my camera, and my attacker got to his feet and loomed over me. I wasn’t getting up. To make doubly sure, he unleashed a volley of kicks to my chest and stomach before legging it through the rubble and undergrowth.
Thank goodness, a passing pizza delivery driver stopped within a couple of minutes. There was an awful lot of blood. He bundled me into his car just as I was thinking that my number was probably up.
And he whisked me to hospital. 15 stitches. Three broken ribs. A bruised liver. And one very, very messed-up head. And that was the problem.
I like to know things. That’s my nature. But suddenly I was in a world where I knew nothing at all. What did the knife look like? I hadn’t seen it. Where had my attacker been all day? What did he get for my camera? Did he stab anyone else that day? How grubby was the knife? How many people did he stab that day? How many people has he stabbed since?
It’s more than two years ago now. But I still want answers. Does he remember me? Is he even alive? Surely, you can’t carry on doing what he was doing with impunity.
Questions, questions, questions – and all I had and have still got is the complete impossibility of answers, especially not to the big ones: what would have happened if pizza driver Steven had simply driven on by? Do I owe my life to fluke or masterplan? I haven’t got a clue.
Within a couple of weeks, out and about for the first time, I had a horrid panic attack in a busy shopping precinct. I don’t think anyone noticed, but for five minutes, if anyone had touched me, spoken to me, even come near me, I would have dissolved into tears. I just wanted the ground to open up beneath me.
So what did I do? The next day I did what I have always done. I ran. And it hurt like hell. Broken ribs. Flesh barely healed. But something lifted.
It’s two years, three months ago now. I am jumpy. Sudden noise makes me leap out of my skin. My memory is abysmal; my concentration is dreadful. But I am still here. I have added three more marathons to my pre-stab tally of 30, and I count them the most precious marathons of the lot.
I have still got PTSD and frankly can’t see it shifting any time soon, but running gave me strength. It makes me me again.
And that’s precisely the subject of my new book.
Outrunning The Demons will be published (simultaneously in Sydney, London and New York) by Bloomsbury on January 24 2019 – my tribute to the strength of character that running allows us all to show.
The book is based on 33 interviews with people from the UK, the US and Australia who have faced awful circumstances and have found that the best way back is to run.
These are people who have lost loved-ones to murder, have been caught up in terrorism, have suffered depression, addiction, alcoholism or bereavement, have been viciously attacked, have braved horrid illness, have suffered the horrors of war or been on the wrong end of outrageous misfortune.
But the thing that links them all (apart from speaking to me!) is that they have found space and time and connection through running. Running has helped them grieve; it has helped them heal; it has given them freedom; it has renewed and nurtured them; it has helped them move on, re-emerge, reclaim their lives and become stronger people.
These are fantastic people. Wonderful people. Open. Warm. Wise. Generous. Brave. Just fabulous. I am really hoping their stories will touch you as much as they have touched me.
Running has been my therapy. I’d always run. Now I knew why. And this book has been my therapy too. And I am so unbelievably excited that I can now start counting the days to publication.
I am really hoping this book will spark your curiosity – and to those of you who are actually in the book, thank you, thank you, thank you for speaking to me and helping me see that yes, trauma will change us, but it certainly doesn’t have to claim us.
I hope the tales of strength will lift you as much as they have lifted me!
I will update about the book on – https://philhewittauthorofoutrunningthedemons.wordpress.com/
Or please link up with me on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/phil.hewitt.524
The book can be pre-ordered on – https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/outrunning-the-demons-9781472956514/
A bit pale and shocked, in Cape Town a few days after the attack, a few of the bruises still visible….