Marathon runner Phil Hewitt, from Bishop’s Waltham, narrowly survived being stabbed while in South Africa. The 55-year-old has now written a book about how running helped him overcome the mental scars. Here the journalist father-of-two tells his story in his own words...
‘It’s the questions that hurt the most. The questions that won’t go away. The questions I will never find answers to.
‘What did the knife look like? I didn’t see it. Where had my attacker been all day? Did he stab anyone else that day? How grubby was the knife? How many other people did he stab that day? How many people has he stabbed since?
‘Does he remember me? Is he even alive? Surely, you can’t carry on doing what he was doing with impunity.
‘But above all, I want to know: what would have happened if my rescuer hadn’t stopped and bundled me into his car? What would have happened if I had been left there just a few minutes more, blood pooling around me on that Cape Town pavement nearly three years ago?
‘And that’s the trouble with being stabbed – assuming you survive.
‘The real problem isn’t so much the knife that goes into you. No, the real problem is the mess of thoughts it leaves behind – thoughts, in my case, far harder to deal with than the physical injuries.
‘But thank goodness, I had running in my armoury. And thanks to running, what began as an attack in which I could so easily have died has now ended up as a book, a celebration of the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other at speed.
‘Alongside family and friends, running has got me back on my feet.
‘My new book Outrunning The Demons is published by Bloomsbury in the UK on Thursday (available from Amazon) and in the States and Australia at the end of March.
‘It’s book which was written in blood, sweat and tears. The questions will never go away, but the book revels in the fact that running will always dull them.
‘I was walking back from watching England lose a one-day international against South Africa at the gorgeous Newlands cricket ground in Cape Town. And I was stupid.
‘I made bad decision after bad decision. I carried on walking when I should have walked back, and I walked straight into danger – danger quickly realised.
‘In a ghastly, grim, crime-ridden suburb, I was stabbed twice in the leg by a mugger demanding my camera. The weird thing is that the stabs felt like punches, which is probably why I fought back.
‘I pulled him to the ground, where he started kicking me in the back, which was the moment I looked down to see my leg was awash with blood. No, those punches most definitely weren’t punches.
‘I let go of my camera, and my attacker got to his feet and loomed over me. I wasn’t getting up. To make doubly sure, he unleashed a volley of kicks to my chest and stomach before legging it through the rubble and undergrowth.
‘Thank goodness, a passing pizza delivery driver stopped within a couple of minutes. There was an awful lot of blood. He shoved me into his car just as I was thinking that my number was probably up.
‘And he whisked me to hospital. 15 stitches. Three broken ribs. A bruised liver. And one very, very messed-up head.
‘And that was the problem. It let those questions in…. questions which bubbled and brooded and simmered and festered until the day, three weeks later, they erupted in a panic attack. In Boots in Fareham, of all places… and believe me, you can’t get anywhere less threatening than Boots in Fareham.
‘So what did I do? The next day I did what I have always done. I ran. And it hurt like hell. Broken ribs. Flesh barely healed. But something lifted. Running gave me strength. It makes me me again, and it was running that started to put me back together again – a story I wanted to tell.
‘There are 34 interviews with people from the UK, the US and Australia who have been to hell and have found that the surest, quickest, safest way back is to run.
‘Running has been my therapy. This book has been my therapy too. I hope the tales of strength will lift you as much as they have lifted me. I hope this book is rousing. I hope it is inspiring. I hope it is uplifting.
‘It deals with tough things, but it is not a tough read. It is a book about hope – hope my interviewees have helped me share.’
Outrunning The Demons: Lives Transformed through Running
Not only does Phil Hewitt write about his own experience, he has interviewed runners from around the world.
There is the New York firefighter’s widow who ran the New York City Marathon in his memory after he perished amid the horrors of 9/11.
The dad who tried to drown himself in a moment of despair and has since found purpose, strength and happiness through running.
The prison officer who connected with his murdered daughter amid the ice floes of the North Pole.
The US army captain’s widow who found an outlet for her grief through running – and united a nation in commemoration of the fallen.
A New York mum to two severely autistic boys who knows that running has saved her family
A naval officer who found himself in a plunging, nosediving jet, only to emerge with PTSD and a horror of all forms of transport. Running was the means by which he reclaimed his life.
An Australian PE teacher who was brutally sexually assaulted on an early-morning run – and found that running was the best way to combat the horrors the attack left her with.
A British firefighter who found that running helped him face the trauma of pulling the bodies of friends and colleagues from a fatal fire.