Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

There I was at the start of my third triathlon for the year. The last one did not go so well; it was a half-Ironman distance (1.9 km swim, 90 km bike, and 21 km run), where I ended up being in such excruciating disease-driven pains that I could not run a step and ended up walking the full 21 km half marathon. The swim went well, as this is my strongest discipline.

The main point though is that I finished. Yes, I was heartbroken, I thought the result would be different, I thought I could maybe run a little further but not this time.

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After being diagnosed 6 years ago with having Pompe disease, I was advised to not push my body at all and to stop most of the sports I was attempting to do, even at a recreational level. Ever since then I have tried my utmost to keep going with the sports I truly love and not only have I been able to do most of these sports again but I have been able to become competitive again.

When I was 6-7 years old I was faced with a rare disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome, which led me to be completely paralyzed for over a year. Doctors said it’s highly possible I would never walk again. My dad got me in the pool as soon as I got feeling and movement back in my legs, and here I am today not only walking but running, riding, surfing, and swimming.  

Today I am faced with a new challenge and rare disease in the form of Pompe disease, a glycogen storage disease that causes muscle weakness and breakdown.

Yet, I once again lined up for a shorter Olympic distance triathlon (1.5 km swim, 40 km bike, and 10 km run). This race is the South African Championships, where the top athletes from around South Africa get together to compete against each other.

Bruce Campbell after swim
Bruce Campbell took it easy after a vigorous 1.5 km swim in the misty, cool ocean. Credit: Bruce Campbell

So, am I insane? What would be different this time? The difference is I choose to believe that I will overcome and learn to control this disease, I choose to believe that it will be different. Call me insane but I will not let this disease decide what I can and cannot do.

I could hear my heart beating in my ears drowning out any noises around me. I had to remain calm. The adrenaline is not good for my disease, the spike will cause me to experience pain and affect my ability to race.

The swim went well. I managed to stay with the front pack and got out of the water feeling good. The bike was not my best but, thank goodness, no disease issues. Then I started on the run; I started off comfortable trying to find a rhythm.  

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I put jelly baby sweets under my tongue so I could try to trick my body into thinking that it always has glucose present then it would not search for glycogen and end up tearing my muscles apart when it can’t find glycogen. 

Bruce Campbell crosses finish line
Bruce Campbell crosses the finish line, expressing his joy over the accomplishment. Credit: Bruce Campbell

At 5 km into the run, I could not believe it, but I was still running. I had one lap to go and another 5 km is a long way. I felt the disease pains creeping in; the pain in my legs was starting to get worse, but I was still running. At 2.5 km to go, I was still running. I could see my friends and family at the finish line chute. I crossed the finish line, not only managing to run an entire 10 km without stopping, but coming in 12th overall and 2nd in my age group in the South African Triathlon Championships. 

Am I telling you to be the next champion? No. I am telling you to never stop doing what you love, do not let your disease define you. 

So I ask myself again, am I insane doing the same races over and over again and expecting a different result? It’s a good kind of insanity, the kind that I hope will influence others to expect a different result, a better result.