At 16, a seemingly ordinary family holiday for Kelly Nel turned into a nightmare. Desperately ill in a strange land and isolated from loved ones, Kelly’s traumatizing 11-day hospital ordeal not only tested her mental and emotional strength, but also left her in no doubt as to the vital importance of a healthy body.
Active from young, Kelly’s school days were filled with a myriad of activities including biathlon that saw her competing at provincial level. “I’ve always loved being active, with a side passion for nutrition, health and wellness,” says Kelly. “I just never realised how important it is to me, until it was almost taken away.”
In 2009, at Singapore airport en route back home, the temperature scanners singled Kelly out with a high temperature. The Swine Flu H1N1 pandemic, of which many unaware of, had arrived in Singapore. Despite her high temperature, Kelly could proceed to their hotel. However, upon arrival, Kelly was taken to the nearest doctor as not only had she started to feel worse, but her temperature had also increased drastically.
“I was immediately placed in isolation and taken by ambulance to the contagious diseases hospital in Singapore. Upon arrival at the hospital, Kelly was directed to an impromptu massive marque tent that had been erected for admissions and testing, where she was tested and had to wait for the results.
“I remember how ill I felt. I was extremely weak, and my body was aching. My throat hurt and I was suffering from terrible migraine headaches and a very high temperature.” About six hours later, Kelly woke to the news that she had tested positive for Swine Flu and was being admitted. Since her family’s landing in Singapore a few hours earlier, Singapore had declared a state of emergency very similar to South Africa’s Level 5 Lockdown during the current COVID19 pandemic.
“I was admitted into hospital and placed in total isolation. Even the windows in my room were locked and all the medical staff wore several layers of protective suits and gear.”
For the next six days, Kelly’s body battled! The various treatments were not working, and Kelly was placed on the most severe drug available. “It was scary. Very scary. On top of which, my entire family had to leave Singapore immediately that first day. Only my father remained, but he could not visit or come anywhere near me.”
After eight days, Singapore lifted the state of emergency and patients could go home to self-isolate. However, due to the severity of Kelly’s condition, she was kept in hospital. Fortunately, the radical new treatment began to work miracles and on day 11 Kelly was released from hospital and allowed to fly home with her dad to reunite with her family.
“Once I had started to feel better, I remember how I would stand at the hospital window and look outside at all the people walking around wishing I could do that.” Lying in an isolation ward Kelly vowed that, should she recover, she would never again take her physical body for granted.
“The day I was finally discharged, the nurses wheeled me out of the hospital. I was extremely weak and unable to walk. However, the feeling of the wind on my face and the fresh air I could now breathe was not only completely surreal, but also a stark realisation of just how important it is to be fit and healthy.”
Despite her miraculous recovery, the illness had taken its toll on Kelly’s body and it would take commitment and real determination and strength to get her body back to where it had been. There have also other challenges and side effects along the way. “I suffer from a great fear of hospitals and germs. And the recent COVID19 pandemic has, understandably, caused me great stress and anxiety.”
“To help regain my strength and fitness, I started running on the treadmill a few times a week. First, I would manage 20 minutes and that then became 30 minutes. Eventually I was running on the treadmill every day.”
Having never run even so much as a 10km race before, Kelly decided to take part in the Two Oceans half marathon. However, a bout of flu caused her to have to withdraw leaving her disappointed but more determined than ever. “I decided to enter the Gun Run. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy it but surprised myself by finishing in the ladies top 10!” After some time, Kelly caught the attention of Chris Bruwer who signed her up to run for Retail Capital Langa.
And the rest is history …
Earlier this year saw Kelly awarded the title of ‘Western Cape Champion for 2020’. Other significant achievements include:
- Two Oceans half marathon: 23rd female home (2018)
- Cape Town Marathon: 34th female home and 5th Western Province female home (2019)
- MP Titans half marathon: 2nd female home (2019)
- Spartan Firgrove half marathon: 2nd lady home (2019 and 2020)
- Slave Route: 2nd female home (2020)
- Peninsula half marathon: 3rd female home (2020)
- Kempston ladies’ night race 10km: 2nd female home (2020)
And her goals and dreams? “To run a sub 80 half marathon and receive a gold medal in the Two Oceans half marathon! Running has completely changed my life, as it can for everyone.”
And what keeps Kelly going?
“Running! Literally and figuratively! It helps clear my mind, highlighting for me the power of the mind and shows me how I can dig deep and overcome any hurdles that life may bring my way. I’ve learned that the hard times only make the good times better!”
“And my family! They have always been there cheering me on … be it as a child, long distance whilst I lay in isolation in a Singapore hospital or more recently, along the side of the road. No matter how much I achieve in life, it would mean absolutely nothing without them!”
Keep Going Kelly!