04/11/17 – It has been six months today since we lost DJ. I wanted to mark the occasion by honoring the man and phenomenon the only way I know how – with an unsophisticated music video (headphones mandatory). Below, I have also reproduced some words I put together the afternoon it happened.
The following is something I wrote on the day but didn’t feel like sharing broadly at the time. I heard the news almost immediately after the accident: a text message coming through in my first meeting of the day, the kind of text message you initially think must be a sick joke, before realising no one would make a joke like that. Your equilibrium fails, you leave the room and make the call. I then wandered out of my building and around the city and docklands in tears, with no clear aim, but soon pulled by gravity towards ANZ Centre, where we worked together and where two of our close, shared friends might be found. I stood nearby and tried to call Ben repeatedly, with no reply. Upon eventually returning to the office I was sent home by an understanding boss. A few hours later, lying in my bed, I wrote the below in an email and sent it to our three close, mutual friends…
The word enigma is over-used and hence devalued in its currency, which is a shame, as now would be a great time to invoke it (and so I will anyway). When applied to a person, its definition relates to someone a little mysterious, with apparent contradictory aspects in their character. Some would say this suits DJ to a tee.
On the one hand, DJ could be seemingly silent and inscrutable, perhaps saving his breath for the carefully chosen words that carried both insight and authority, which often book-ended the rambling inanity and speculation dribbling forth from fools such as I. But then on the other hand, and often when least expected, tiny yet iridescent droplets of pure mirth and joy – and yes, even plain silliness – he would casually drop into the world, creating ripples of pleasure where they landed. And once started, he could hold forth with the best of them, leveraging his wisdom and wit to make his point well, or to bring a story to life.
DJ was very well-paid, but I’ve always held enormous respect for his aversion to frivolous spending. Like me, he seemed to derive deep satisfaction from insisting on driving the same small and relatively humble car the whole time I knew him, although he never mentioned it. For an endurance athlete, he chose his gear carefully and made it last, rather than always chasing the latest and greatest thing (unlike me). Also unlike me, he was a very strong cyclist, but never splashed out on the flashy, ten-grand bikes he could so easily have afforded and which he so effortlessly passed on his far humbler steed. But then he would never hesitate to spend where it mattered: on amazing life experiences and travel.
Regarding those experiences – and boy, did DJ know how to live life! – despite being an avid and experienced campaigner in the field of ultra-marathon, which often suits a particular type of person, the same type of person you wouldn’t usually find in team sports, he was also a highly accomplished cricketer, touring internationally pretty much every year. Not to mention his achievements in other sporting fields! Yup – it was never safe to try and put DJ in a box, that’s for sure.
And so, yes, on the surface he was an enigma – with many contradictions. However, as with most puzzles, it was only severally, individually that the sum parts of DJ could look contradictory, or confusing. It wasn’t until you really got to know him that the pieces started to fall into their slots and a much clearer picture emerged that, actually, made perfect sense.
For me, the singularity that is DJ was just a core part of the wonder of mother nature, like the trees and the mountains. My attitude towards him was similar to how I viewed the sun rising in the morning – while I hold the phenomenon in appropriate awe, I also just expect it to be there, an everyday miracle – and in that sense I take the sunrise for granted. Whenever I thought ahead, to various plans or schemes – audacious future race expeditions, or even just the next running of our own event, the BLR70, he was always an integral part of that. If he couldn’t help with this year’s race, I knew he’d be back next year, either dutifully running in it, if we were short on numbers, or helping organise it again. When I thought about a Comrades campaign, or a mission to the Western States Endurance Run, I assumed he’d be on the plane.
That dogged consistency manifested itself in his physical endurance. I must have run at least ten ultra-marathons with DJ, and hundreds of hours training in the hills, often at highly unsociable times, or through the night, and no matter what else was going on with everyone else on the run, their various injuries and energy levels, there would be DJ: forever driving forwards, cresting the hill behind you when you were just starting to wonder, or pushing up through the middle when you were tired, towing you through the flattest parts, or, despite not having trained and being unexpected to finish, charging through the finish line at a race, with everyone yelling their heads off, over-joyed to see that strong head of hair bobbing up the finish chute.
DJ was such an amazing supporter of others, manifested in thousands of small acts or words that have made a huge difference to dozens of people besides me. From the little things, like the kudos he’d give on every activity I recorded on Strava – keeping an eye on my cumulative training load, to making sure everyone we met in NSW knew that Coast2Kosciousko wasn’t just any race, that only the ‘best-of-the-best’ can get into it (which is probably going a little far, to be honest). Indeed, when I needed a crew for that race, he didn’t bat an eyelid at the impost of sacrificing a couple of days’ pay and heading up to NSW in less than salacious conditions – in fact, his attitude suggested that it had been agreed years earlier, or indeed that it was written in the dead sea scrolls.
And this illustrates DJ well. He represented a stolid certainty, a rock-like vessel of knowledge and values that transcended the push and pull of many people’s self-doubts or inconsistencies. DJ held within him a particular secret about life, a secret he had worked out long before I met him, about 12 years ago. Maybe he always knew it. I’m sure it wasn’t something he could directly share in words, it was far too complex and mystical for the constraints of language. But it was something he would impart glimpses of, in other ways. Through his actions. Through his insights. Through his sheer, unflinching unique-ness (he was, indeed, a singularity). Those who were lucky enough to catch some of those glimpses will have some idea what that secret is, hopefully enough to benefit from it as much as I do.
And now when I think ahead, coming up with various plans and schemes, something does not compute. There is an absence of strong hair in all my most audacious plans. There is no rock against which my foolishness can ebb and flow. When I gather my breath at the top of a hill at five in the morning, I won’t be rewarded by the sight of his headlamp, steadily coming up towards me.