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How can Adversity lead to Opportunity?


Adversity is opportunity dressed in disguise.

It sometimes feels like it follows us around though, doesn’t it?

People who overcome adversity, particularly in a larger sense, are often like inspirational or motivational speakers. Their stories are inspiring but we fail to connect with their accomplishments to incorporate into our daily lives.

I hope we can change that today.

This past Sunday I was due to ride my 8th Cape Town Cycle Tour (formally known as the Argus – I still call it that it’s so much easier) and my 4th year raising money and awareness for *The Sunflower Fund; an organisation formed out of tragedy that now helps so many.

Alas due to extreme wind the race was called off.

The previous day; however,  a fire had ripped through Hout Bay destroying countless homes leaving thousands of people with nothing but the clothes on their back. With the race being called off, food and water from the race’s unused hospitality section was donated to the victims; as was the prize money. That alone meant my heart was happier Monday morning than if I’d raced and gotten medal #8. Example number one.

The Sunflower Fund

Tina Botha lost her son, Chris Collett to Leukaemia at the age of 17 – a month shy of his 18th birthday. Read their story here

I personally can’t imagine too much worse than this. Death is never easy but to lose your child? How incredible then that she took their experience to generate this organisation to tirelessly work to increase the database of donors for people with Leukaemia.

This is one of the reasons I support them the way I do (and became a donor). The strength it took to overcome heartache has now generated something special that helps saves lives.

She wasn’t defined by what happened to her – she’s defined by how she reacted though.

But how does that help you with your daily adversity you face?

The Gray’s story

Brian took some time to chat to me about when their daughter was diagnosed with Leukaemia seven years ago – she was only three.

When they got a phone call like this they suddenly realised how limited their knowledge on the subject was; it just sounded like death.

Living in Pinelands turned out to be a blessing as treatment took place at the Red Cross hospital just five minutes away. The news meant both Brian and Sharon’s thoughts were running away with them. Thankfully the doctor and staff at hand were outstanding.

It was carefully explained that firstly, until the doc says panic there was no reason to. He meticulously went through the protocol of what would happen during the typical two and a half year process for girls this age; what each drug was and what it would do to her system (good and bad). They were also given great advice on how to keep her isolated when her immune system would be at its lowest.

Even in these darkest times they were blessed with being able to do everything in the best possible way to support her recovery.

“If you ask me a question, I will answer it honestly” he warned. “I won’t just tell you things you may not want to hear – like what is the survival rate”

They would still ask him that question.

Somehow just having a plan in place helped Brian in particular, and they had a purpose and short term goals to work towards. All welcome distractions from the worst outcome a parent can imagine.

It may have been over five years ago, but I could feel the emotion of what they went through. Hearing how Brian and Sharon fought through this time and the strain it put on each of them and in their lives, showed that even with a positive outlook it doesn’t change the fact that we are negatively affected by such experiences; physically and emotionally.

Adversity doesn’t keep time and they would sometimes have to rush their daughter to the hospital at 2am when her temperature soared; only to get home at 5am get changed and head to work.

Initially they thought that the staff were uncompromising – but soon realised they were committed to the kids first and foremost; not worrying about the parents feelings. As the treatment progressed they would see ‘new’ parents expressing the same frustrations and finally watch their penny drop that the ‘abruptness’ was because their job was to save these kids – not pander to what the parents were experiencing. The Gray’s would later be grateful for this.

Thankfully, little Ms Gray responded well to treatment and is now a happy ten year old with an added dimension to her very being. She’s a fighter who soldiered through her treatments; what at the time ended up being half of her life. I look forward to seeing how she uses that strength in the rest of her life.

Here’s the twist.

Having registered as potential donors for their daughter (they only start doing searches and comparisons if response to treatment doesn’t go well), Brian was contacted six months later to say he was a match.

Just try imagining this. You are watching your own daughter go through treatment – and you hear you can help someone who didn’t respond to it.

Adversity had inadvertently enabled him to save another human being.

He underwent two more tests to ensure he was a perfect match. Almost a year after his daughter had been diagnosed; he would become a lifeline.

For a week he got two injections a day to stimulate his body into making additional stem cells and pushing them into his blood stream. The day finally arrives and he sits quietly for seven hours as they draw his blood, and use a centrifuge machine to spin the blood and collect the stem cells.

There is no pain

Read that as everyone has no reason not to sign up to the registry and potentially save someone’s life.

In South Africa we have 73 500 people registered (about 0.14% of the population) versus a country like Germany, where being a donor is entrenched in their culture, has 9 million people registered (11% of the population)

To this day his recipient is doing well and now that the five year mandatory waiting period is up; Brian and his donor recipient can meet up. He hopes to meet the person and see them healthy and strong.

The family experienced tremendous hardships through this but learnt some valuable lessons.

  1. Time offers wonderful perspective. And these perspectives will always be revealed to you.

  2. Seek help. Brian openly expresses to me how he tried to be too strong for too long and eventually broke down. Speaking to a professional he was able to process this ordeal and now has a healthy respect for seeking help and often guides people today to seek the same. There is no stigma or shame in doing so.

Adversity means different things to different people.

It can change the course of our lives or just the course of our day. What stands out is no matter what it is – it’s the same mind-set we all need to push through to change it into an opportunity. Even if we don’t know what that opportunity could possibly be. We simply have to have faith that it’s there.

I believe part of getting through adversity is a belief that it’s more than just about us. Believing that we’re all here to help one another – in whatever way – cultivates a mind-set to push through darkness towards light. Look how the Grays overcame everything to help their daughter.

Once we overcome adversity we come out the other side a changed human being and that benefits everyone – not just ourselves. Case in point: Tina & all the Grays.

Some things to think about before adversity strikes:

  1. It takes time. Be kind to yourself and take the time you need to process what happens.

  2. Let go of attachment. Holding on to what we want versus what is reality will drive you mad.

  3. Only deal with what’s in front of you now. Your doctor may have found a lump but until you get the test results back it could just be benign.

  4. Don’t be a pawn, be a player. Decide whether you going to let it stop you, or you going to move forward the way you choose to. Players make the move.

  5. Feel your inner strength. We don’t give ourselves enough credit. Start feeling your inner strength and stop believing others ‘just happen to have it’ more than you do. Just ask Tina and Brian and never be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is one of the true signs of strength.

  6. Learn from others. We are not meant to do everything alone. Ask for help, get advice, and surround yourself with people who contribute to a positive mind-set rather than constantly berate you.

These can take time to build up so I found a great table with a way to frame questions you’d usually ask yourself to be more positive:


I hope you can find a daily practice that allows you to take the shit you’ve been given and use it as fertilizer to grow something new; something beautiful.

Maybe even a sunflower.

*If you’d like to register as a donor visit them at  and if you’d like to contribute to their cause and help people get type tested – a cost of R2000 per person; their details are as follows:

The Sunflower Fund


 Account No: 405 183 4719

 Branch Code: 632005

Hope begins with you


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