Hans' challenge is to reach the top of the Ravenbosch forest
Country: The Netherlands
Challenge: Reach the top of the Ravenbosch forest
Country: The Netherlands
Role in journey: Motivational coach and entrepreneur
Hi, my name is Hans. I am a severe haemophilia patient with a complex comorbidity, but with guts and a positive attitude, I manage to maintain my health at a reasonable level. I don't think about the things that I can't do anymore, but I optimistically accept everything I can do and enjoy with my wife Sosia every day.
I constantly challenge myself to stay active. At the age of 54, I can call myself an experience expert from a patient perspective. A few years ago I wrote my autobiography, which is very popular with patients and caregivers. As an extension of that, I give training and lectures on hemophilia and co-infections.
1: It is starting
The challenge has begun. The moment I got out of the car I got this sense of familiarity. After all, it's the forest I spent a lot of time in ever since I was a kid. My granddad took me to this forest from the day I could walk on my own. First to a spot where, in autumn, you could find delicious chestnuts. He showed me how to take them out of the spiky husk and peel them, and then we would eat them together.
My granddad had his own opinion about hemophilia. He used to say: “Oh, just leave him be!” And now, after being away for 9 years due to long-term illness and rehabilitation, I once again set foot in the Ravensbosch. For now, I will focus on the flat part. This is also the longest distance I have to walk. The ground under my feet takes a little getting used to, because a forest path is very different from beautifully paved roads. I feel good, motivated and fit. Partly because of the tips from my coach, Lienke.
Every morning I stand in front of the mirror looking at myself intently and telling myself out loud that I am going to succeed. The sun is shining and although I find myself in the lowest part of the forest, there are many beautiful vistas to take in. My coagulation level is good, so that won’t be the problem. I’m glad I put on my hiking shoes, also because it means they are finally back in use after a long time. As I walk and stand, I feel a lot more stable than I had expected but I do feel a little resistance in my left ankle. Don’t do too much too soon. I have to get used to the environment and the past keeps flashing before my eyes.
How I used to walk, run and explore around here. It affects me more than I had expected. My not-yet replaced joints also have to find their position again. Nine years is a very long time. With every step I take, I have to be aware of where I put my foot down. At the first crossing, about 500 meters from where I started, I decide to turn back.
After all, I have to walk the same distance back as well. I have made a start however and according to my diary, my wife Sosia and I are having dinner with a befriended couple at our favorite restaurant tomorrow. Of course, I don’t want to miss that, so I have to gradually build up the walking.
2: Challenges and memories
A challenge for one can be just a walk in the park for another, or something to not even consider at all. With that in mind, I continued my challenge today. I asked myself whether this was really a challenge for me... a bit of walking about in a forest. All flat at first. Then the slopes leading to natural stairs with a hundred steps.
Stairs which take me to a 48-meters higher altitude in the forest. From there, another flat section to the place I want to reach. “Wasn’t it in 2016 I walked up and down all 508 steps of the Wilhelminaberg (Mount Wilhelmina)? Shouldn’t this then be a piece of cake...?” Those stairs did have nice even steps and a handrail. Now I am facing soft, uneven soil, slopes and natural stairs where no two steps are the same. My conclusion is that this is absolutely a challenge for me.
Even more so because today I was able to confidently complete the first part of the route, the flat and longest part. Lienke taught me how to focus on the goal of the day instead of the goal of the challenge. This helps a lot and makes it easier to walk. I always enjoyed walking, even as a little boy. If I got even half a chance, I would slip away from boring meetings in the village and gaze into the distance as I marched down the street towards the forest. Except, I never got that far as I would invariable be called back. Now I am my own boss.
My goal is to achieve this challenge within a period of five weeks. During my 27 active years in the newspaper world, I have always had to deal with deadlines, so now I have set this one for myself. As I concentrate on each step and enjoy the serene tranquility of the forest, the memories in my head are working overtime. They are jumping in every direction, back and forth through time. The flat section is done and dusted now. My ankle isn’t complaining, which is promising for the next stage; the stage with the slopes.
I do not want to force this section; I want to do it piece by piece instead. With Lienke’s tips in mind, I am certain it will work out fine. Because, as she advised me to, I am going to reward myself when I succeed in this challenge.
3: Sloping section
Oh, I am so grateful that I can walk here. I would not have dared to dream of this four years ago. With the aftereffects of years of viral infections, HIV and hepatitis C, I spent half a year in hospital, more dead than alive. That period had a major impact on my body; I could barely walk, had lost 25 kilos of body weight and was left with a fitness level of virtually zero. The three years of rehabilitation that followed were riddled with many setbacks and relapses.
And now I'm walking here again, on my way to my late father’s special place. The sloping section is far steeper than I remember it and it is hard on both my breathing and my ankle. The knees keeping up nicely. I feel muscles I hadn’t felt for a very long time. But I’m starting to worry about how it will go when I take the same way back. Because, I'd rather walk uphill than downhill. Its looking to be another hot day today.
Fortunately, it cools down a lot during the night, so during the morning hours the forest air is crisp and cool. I don’t even want to think about having to do this in an open field in 30-degree heat without the shade of the trees protecting me. I have set aside two days for the sloping section. Lienke has taught me how to turn fears and doubts into successes. Before I started the challenge, I had one big doubt: The sloping section. What if something were to go wrong? On Lienke’s advice, I shared the challenge on Social Media beforehand and fortunately many people spontaneously volunteered to walk with me part of the way.
I have gratefully accepted those offers. From the final flat section there is someone walking with me each time, which makes me feel safe. So safe that I can leave all my doubts behind and enjoy the environment.
4: Stairs or no stairs
Now that the flat part is going well, and I can face the slopes it is time for the final big test. The stairs. From the last real slope, it is just a short distance to the bottom of the one-hundred-steps stairs. The stairs you can use to bridge the last extremely steep section. Walking uphill on the final slopes, my thoughts drifted about 43 years back in time. To the time when I passed by the top of the stairs with my grandfather and started to run down the side of the stairs along a very narrow path. The steep slope made me go so fast that I could not stop myself.
Everything comes to an end, including that narrow path. Which forced me to come to an abrupt stop by grabbing hold of a young tree, young enough that it still bent a little with the force I put on it. Apart from some small scrapes, I did not suffer any bleeding from that. The young tree has turned into a full-grown tree now, but it remains a little crooked to this day. Suddenly I was pulled back to the present. Coming around the last bend, I saw to my horror that the stairs were gone. How can that be? Where have the stairs gone? I did see the tree immediately, but the stairs... I tried to look and see if it was still there further up.
But a bend and the trees were blocking my view. Luckily at that moment a woman with two dogs arrived. She informed us that the stairs were still there, but that a few years ago, during a long period of heavy rainfall, it was flooded with a layer of mud. So, now what? The woman said that the slope, with an incline of more than 30%, is almost impossible for her to climb and that she therefore avoids that part. That meant that I too would have to take another route to get to the top. No steep staircase unfortunately, but instead another slope and a longer detour.
For a moment I feared the entire challenge might come in jeopardy. The route I was now forced to take was one that I hadn’t taken very often. Every bend and turn took me higher and higher and every time I rounded one, I thought I had almost reached the end. But this path crosses back and forth through the forest. By this point, my ankle was used to the almost constant load and was no longer giving me resistance.
Suddenly I realized that actually it was quite a comfortable walk. Slowly ascending but over a longer distance. According to my tracking app it was more than a kilometer extra. Where there's a will, there's a way. This alternative route has now also been completed. Now I can prepare for the grand finale: Completion of the challenge.
Now that I am cured of the hepatitis C virus and the HIV virus is no longer detectable, I am still taking small steps forward. I don’t think about things I can’t do anymore but focus instead on things I can still do. Giving lectures on hemophilia and co-infections and providing training for the Stichting Mens Achter de Patiënt (person behind the patient foundation) are things I put a lot of time into. I feel exceptionally well today. Because I can say that I have completed the challenge.
For this special moment I was accompanied by Sosia, my mother and a good friend. When I got within a stone's throw of the point that marked the completion of the challenge, a sense of joy and satisfaction came over me. This too I am going to succeed at. In that final stretch, I passed the point where I would have come up the stairs. Looking down I could now indeed clearly see that the stairs were covered with a layer of mud. It was at that moment that I realized I had already covered the distance to be walked six times over.
What challenge? A top achievement, if I may say so myself. At the challenge point I allowed for a slightly longer break. I was so proud of myself for getting and standing there. Something I could not have imagined last year and now, here I was. The request to participate in the challenge pulled several emotional strings. Old memories came back to, Lienke strengthened my mind and spirit enormously and physically it has done me a lot of good. Taking an extra section each time to finally end up at the challenge point.
As I stood there, I promised myself that this would not be the only time. In fact, I want to maintain that level of physical strain on myself. So that Sosia and I can do more together than we have so far. I tend to overthink, so I’m always picturing obstacles in my way. Obstacles I put there myself. I’m going to let that go. Don’t think, just do it and if it then turns out it can’t be done, then at least I tried it and there will be a solution. If I can let go of those obstacles, that will be my reward for this challenge. Aside from a small ice cream of course as an extra reward. The experiences I can take away from this challenge make me very happy and I would not have wanted to miss them for the world.
Dislcaimer: Before starting your own physical challenge, it is important to discuss it with your treatment team first.
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