DEEP HEAT URBAN ATHLETES: Jason Van’t Slot
Diagnosed at eight months with cystic fibrosis ‘CF’, (a life shortening lung and digestive condition that causes an overload of thick syrup like mucus to accumulate inside the body – CF affects every organ, causing it to malfunction and fail as you get older) Jason van’t Slot was, unknown to him, given a life expectancy of 10 years.
Today, Jason is a 26-year-old professional public speaker and competitive cyclist, a source of tremendous inspiration for many and accomplisher of world firsts!
“My parents chose not to tell me of the severity of my condition and, rather, implemented a strong positive grounding when I was growing up. I was raised to be positive, dream big and live life to the fullest. It would have been far too easy as a young child to say ‘Why me? Why do I have CF and not my twin sister?’ I never asked that question as it had no real meaning due to our family motto of, ‘Don’t give CF power to limit you.”
Jason counts himself fortunate to have been diagnosed as early as he was, with so many CF patients often misdiagnosed early on. “My early diagnosis allowed for lung damage to be limited and placed me in the position, together with my family, to better control my CF as I grew up.”
As a child, Jason’s parents would have to give him ‘percussion’ physiotherapy on his lungs once or twice a day to loosen up the phlegm so that he was able to cough it up. “Living with CF requires constantly monitoring and managing my health and the risks to prevent lung infections. The onus was predominantly on my parents when I was younger.”
This resulted in Jason missing out on so much of what can be considered a ‘traditional’ childhood. A simple play date with a snotty nosed kid could result in weeks in hospital on IV antibiotics, lung damage and accelerated lung failure. Seemingly ‘normal’ activities such as playing in horse stables or swimming in heated pools and hot springs were also a definite no due to the risk of infections from warm and damp environments (where pathogens and bacteria thrive).
As Jason got older, he became increasingly more involved in sport to help it clear his lungs. “I found that cycling and CF complement each other very well. From a health perspective, the positioning of the bike allows one to open the chest. Further, the position of leaning over gives one a form of postural drainage to help clear the lungs. However, cycling is still enormously challenging due to CF and over and above the obvious reduced lung function.”
“Success is not measured by how well you do against others,
but how well you fulfil your own potential.”
This mind-set has enabled Jason to achieve various accomplishments and world firsts for someone suffering from CF.
In 2015, together with his teammate Philipp Sassie, they became the first team (with a rider with CF) to complete the 8-day Cape Epic (the toughest multi stage mountain biking race on earth – a world first for CF that saw them raise more than R65 000 for the Cape Cystic Fibrosis Association. Their efforts were further rewarded with the ABSA Conquer as One jersey (awarded to the team that displays immense human spirt to overcome personal challenges to conquer that stage together) in the 5th stage, subsequently winning the jersey overall for the 2015 event.
“Being healthy enough for the 20 years before the Cape Epic, and to be in a position where I could even think of such a challenge was already a victory.”
In 2017, Jason then set his sights on realising his childhood dream of a sub-3-hour 2018 Cape Town Cycle Tour (the largest timed cycling race on earth with over 35,000 entrants per year) – akin to that of running a 4-minute mile. After 8 years of dreaming, and 9 months of training, Jason broke the 3-hour mark, finishing with a time of 2:57:08 and within the top 900 riders that year. In 2020, Jason then went on to improve on the fastest time for a rider with CF, finishing with a time of 2:52:56 and placing in the top 600 riders (top 2.5%).
With two world firsts behind him, Jason’s next goal is an ‘Everesting’ attempt – the most difficult hill climbing challenge in the world. Fiendishly simple, yet brutally hard, an ‘Everesting’ attempt involves picking any hill in the world and cycling multiple repeats of the same hill until you have climbed the height of Mount Everest (9km of vertical kilometres).
“I will be attempting to cycle up Taal Monument in Paarl no fewer than 58 times (a single climb with the combined steepness of Suikerbossie and Chapman’s Peak, covering 180km with 9000m elevation). Although no time limit, there is also no sleep allowed. “I will be resting only for a few minutes per hour in order to test my blood sugar, eat and medicate.”
The goal – to break 17 hours. The WHY – not only to fulfil his potential, but to fulfil his purpose. “I am not the first person with CF to attempt an ‘Everesting’, nor will I be the first person with CF to achieve an Everesting. My WHY is not the record, but rather to raise funds for the South African CF Association’s campaign to bring Trikafta into SA (a life changing drug which corrects the underlying cause of the CF, restores, and corrects the way the defective CFTR gene functions on a cellular level and reduces symptoms and complications of the disease).
“During what I am sure will be many dark moments during my ‘Everesting’ attempt, I will be reminded of my WHY! And I will remind myself that I have the privilege to choose to cycle up a mountain for 17 hours – a privilege denied to so many of my friends! And I will choose to use my privilege to try and give them that choice with Trikafta.”
Jason is often asked how, despite living with a life-threatening condition and essentially being ‘ill’ his entire life, he manages to remain positive and motivated? “Don’t get me wrong! CF is a difficult condition to manage. It hits you when you are at your lowest and it hits hard, totally derailing your plans and your life in general. As depressing and difficult as these challenges are, they are also gifts – if you CHOOSE to receive them as such.”
“Life is not measured by how many breaths you take, but the number of moments that take your breath away.”
“CF has given me the gift of truly appreciating these moments! Experience these moments and live IN that very moment! Live life to the fullest by consciously creating and collecting these moments. To me, THAT is living a full life.
Choose to appreciate the gifts that your challenges may present you with. Choose to consciously create the moments that take your breath away! Choose to collect these moments and have them enrich your life. Choose to LIVE your LIFE to the fullest!”
Keep Going Jason!