In an effort to raise awareness about mental health, Stefan Van Neel ran 116 kilometers, that’s 21 loops, around Lions Head in 24 hours.
Mr Van Neel, 32, of Burgundy Estate, did the same run last year and did 110 kilometres. The loop is 5.3 kilometres. He refers to this project as Peaking For Purpose.
“I started on Saturday September 30, at 4pm, and finished the next day (October 1) at 4pm. For me it wasn’t about getting a certain distance but to see how far I can go consistently, but to go the distance if you know what I mean. Lion’s Head is just a perfect place to do this challenge as it gives me the five kilometre loop, 5.3 to be exact and it’s an iconic place, it’s known all over the world,” Mr Van Neel said.
He says that he began trail running in 2020 and believed that he could use it as a platform to raise awareness about mental health as it helped him overcome his challenges.
“Mental health is something that we don’t speak about it. It’s a sensitive topic and we need to speak about it more. I also went through a tough time and I managed to overcome my adversities and I felt that I needed to give back. Once I started trail running, which was during Covid-19, I realised that it helped me with my demons and I am passionate about trail running so I thought this is how I can reach people and tell them they should not suffer in silence,” he said.
Mr Van Neel had a support runner with him during the trail run and he also got support from the Don’t Run Away movement.
“There were people that came out at different times during the 24 hours and it was really great to have this kind of support, people cheering me on, for this cause, throughout the day and night. I had two designated runners who were with me throughout the 24 hours and they alternated running with me so I was never alone, so it was great to have them with me,” he said.
“When I started this campaign I was alone, no sponsors, nothing, now I have three organisations backing me with gear and their expertise and that makes it extra special to do this. I’ve also partnered with a Johannesburg-based movement known as Don’t Run Away so this project is gaining momentum,” he said.
“I’m in the process of registering Peaking For Purpose as an NPO which is about motivating people to reach for higher heights in whatever they do,” he said.
Taahir Osman, one of the Take Back Our Mountains founders, a non-profit organisation that does patrols and hikes across the Table Mountain National Park, says they are grateful and inspired by Mr Van Neel’s quest.
He says they have been alerted to suicide attempts on the mountains.
“Stefan’s efforts for raising awareness on mental health are really needed, it’s essential to break the stigma and people should know that they can speak up about this matter. We also encourage people to hike or to do trail running as being in nature is healing,” Mr Osman said.