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Harry Bailey

Grid and humour

Victor Compton

Harry Bailey is a poster boy for conservation at Hilton College.

Earlier this year, he ran 100 kilometres over two days, raising R160 000 for rangers on the frontlines of the war against rhino poaching.

Tall and strapping, the Durban-born lad looks like a natural athlete. Far from it, Harry suffers from a chronic immune-mediated disease, which can be fatal. Born eight weeks premature, he has been sickly most of his life.

“The list of my ailments is long and illustrious,” he says with a smile.

At 13, Harry became dangerously ill. With lips covered in cold sores and a month full of ulcers, he lost 10kgs in a week.

“After that I was pumped with antibodies. We discovered my white blood cells can’t retain memory. Every time I fight a virus, it’s as if I’m fighting it for the first time.

“I take four different meds morning and night. The sisters in the sanatorium are scared of me,” he chuckles.

The constant risk of a flare-up, and the fact that he’s not a runner in no way deterred Harry.

“I could barely run 5km and trained for only two months. The longest run I did was with my dad from Durban promenade to Umhlanga – about 25km which we did in four hours.

“I’ve always been held back by my physicality – I get more exhausted than everyone else and struggle to keep up. But in basketball, I’ve excelled, which has been an incredible thing for me. I realised I can do a lot more than I believed I was capable of.”

The run, which was through Thanda Game Reserve, was physically and mentally painful, but Harry says illness has helped him develop mental toughness.

“Life is full of these complications, it’s what builds character. Without them, you will never fully develop. If my dad heard me now, he would laugh and say, ‘I told you!’”

A passionate Old Hiltonian, Harry’s dad Don (Ellis 1989) runs a branding business when he’s not working as a volunteer pilot in aid of conservation or helping his wife Tanya run Uzwelo Bags, a social entrepreneurial business.

Harry’s parents are his inspiration. They push him to be the best version of himself, but he knows they’re proud of him, no matter what.

This year Harry received the Richard Johnston Memorial Prize for perseverance in the face of adversity.

Next year, he plans to study information systems at the University of Pretoria or drama at Stellenbosch University.

Harry’s way has been full of adversity, but he presses on with humour and grit.