Champion Chalupsky: Still fighting four years after ‘six months to live’ cancer prognosis

Kayaking’s iconic world champion Oscar Chalupsky decided to write a book in November 2019 after being diagnosed with quick-killing, incurable bone marrow cancer. The result, a page-turner titled No Retreat, No Surrender, is a guide to the practical benefits of positive thinking and laser-like focus. In this wide-ranging and uplifting interview with BizNews editor Alec Hogg, he talks about entrepreneurship, setting and achieving goals, the link between food determines health and some personal thoughts about SA’s controversial doctor to athletes, Prof Tim Noakes. There’s also some discussion on his superb book, which is a must-read. Just like the recording of the interview is a must-watch. Seriously.

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:00 – Introduction
  • 01:26 – 21 day fast to kill the cancer
  • 03:09 – On Tim Noakes
  • 06:25 – Why did you decide to write your book?
  • 09:21 – Leaving Citadel and Financial services
  • 11:53 – You can’t be too loyal
  • 13:54 – If you’re not there to win you’re wasting time
  • 15:51 – Inheriting a good mindset from your parents
  • 19:12 – Advice for cancer patients
  • 23:37 – Cannabis and other alternative remedies
  • 26:15 – Conclusion

Listen here

Edited transcript of the interview by Alec Hogg with South African paddler Oscar Chalupsky

Alec Hogg: It’s a pleasure to chat with Oscar Chalupsky, a world champion sportsman and cancer survivor, as stated on the cover of his book, “No Retreat, No Surrender.” I purchased the book a few months back for R300 and finally got around to reading it after Oscar nudged me with a signed copy in December.

Oscar Chalupsky: Thank you, Alec.

Alec Hogg: I thoroughly enjoyed it and regret not reading it sooner. According to your friends, Oscar, you came close to not being here today.

Oscar Chalupsky: Yes, Alec. Just about six or seven weeks ago, doctors gave me last rites and advised bringing my family back, but I chose to fight instead. I embarked on a 21-day fast as one of the methods to combat the cancer.

Alec Hogg: Where did you get that idea?

Oscar Chalupsky: My interest in nutrition dates back to the 1980s when Tim Noakes conducted studies with me. Even at 49, winning my last world title, I couldn’t match the physical prowess of younger athletes. So, I delved into unconventional methods, like fasting during chemotherapy, which proved effective.

Alec Hogg: Tim Noakes is well-regarded, but some have criticized him lately. In your long association with him, do you think he’s lost credibility?

Oscar Chalupsky: Everyone has opinions, and not everyone agrees. I’ve known Tim for 40 years, and while some doubt him, his nutritional knowledge is unmatched in South Africa. People may waver, but his views on a high-fat diet and low carbs, for example, have proven valid. Each to their own, and it’s crucial to educate oneself and make informed decisions. People tend to argue rather than discuss, leading to misconceptions about losing credibility.

Alec Hogg: Tim’s stance on COVID has stirred controversy. How do you see it?

Oscar Chalupsky: Tim and I have debated this. While some argue he’s lost the plot, his scientific approach cannot be disputed. It’s essential to recognise that discussions on COVID often turn into arguments. Tim has visited me in the hospital during critical times, and he remains grounded. People may have varying opinions, but it’s crucial to maintain healthy discussions rather than jumping to conclusions about losing credibility.

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Alec Hogg: One of Tim Noakes’ admirable traits is his openness to opposing views, akin to Charlie Munger’s approach in the investment world. Tim emphasises that scientific exploration involves finding where you could be wrong. Oscar, your book is impressive. What prompted you to write it?

Oscar Chalupsky: That’s a great question. On November 25, 2019, I received the news that I had six months to live. The following day, my wife’s 60th birthday, turned into a shock as I grappled with my mortality. Shedding a tear, I reflected on my life, realising that what I had achieved was unique. Instead of succumbing to despair, I decided to pen a book that goes beyond showcasing my sporting and business achievements. The aim was to help people facing tough times by sharing my mistakes, lessons learned, and emphasising the importance of positivity.

Alec Hogg: Your book encourages readers to learn from your experiences after each chapter. How did this approach come about?

Oscar Chalupsky: I wanted the book to be more than a recount of my accomplishments. After each chapter, I share my mistakes and the lessons derived from them. In my motivational talks, I stress the importance of surrounding oneself with positive influences. The book serves as a guide for those seeking inspiration during challenging moments. It’s not about boasting my achievements but about extending a helping hand to others.

Alec Hogg: Your loyalty is evident throughout your life, including your involvement with Citadel. Can you shed light on your departure from the financial services sector?

Oscar Chalupsky: Certainly. While loyalty can be a strength, it can also be a weakness. In the case of Citadel, decisions were made that didn’t align with supporting up-and-coming individuals. Rumours circulated about my lack of a degree, but my loyalty persisted. I left financial services, eventually delving into boat manufacturing, fueled by passion. Loyalty, though commendable, can be a double-edged sword. My advice to others is not to be blindly loyal but to evaluate if they can truly make a difference in a given situation.

Alec Hogg: Your commitment to giving your all, whether in business or sports, is evident. How do you navigate being “too loyal”?

Oscar Chalupsky: Being excessively loyal, as I’ve often been, involves giving 110%, sometimes to the detriment of seeing the bigger picture. In both my kayak business and other endeavours, I tend to go above and beyond. It’s essential to strike a balance and not let loyalty cloud judgment. In some instances, I should have prioritised my own well-being over unwavering loyalty.

Alec Hogg: Your book emphasises the pursuit of winning, a theme consistent throughout your athletic career. Can you elaborate on this mindset?

Oscar Chalupsky: I’ve always set audacious goals, whether in sports or other pursuits. In rugby, despite facing challenges, I aimed for the Natal schools team and achieved it through hard work and dedication. My life revolves around setting goals, making plans, and unwavering commitment to achieving them. It’s not about being inherently special but having an intense desire to win, a quality applicable to all striving for success.

Alec Hogg: Maintaining focus is crucial in achieving success, wouldn’t you agree?

Oscar Chalupsky: Absolutely. It’s easy to get sidetracked and lose sight of your goals. I prefer staying focused, setting clear objectives, and avoiding unnecessary distractions. Some may perceive my dedication as crazy, but I’ve found it to be effective. I also believe in making goals public, even if it means facing potential failure. It holds you accountable, and while some may wish for your failure, beating those odds is especially rewarding.

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Alec Hogg: Your entry into the Natal School rugby team showcased your physical attributes, but there’s more to it than just size, isn’t there?

Oscar Chalupsky: Indeed, my father’s influence played a significant role. He instilled the German precision mindset—do it properly or don’t do it at all. Initially, being bigger than my peers made winning easy. However, losing to a determined smaller competitor shifted my perspective. My father initiated early morning training sessions, emphasising the importance of discipline and commitment. Sacrifices were necessary, waking up early as a child, winning junior and senior Ironman titles, but realizing the limitations of recognition in South Africa’s smaller sports scene.

Alec Hogg: Your father’s mantra of “do it properly or don’t do it at all” seems to have shaped your determination. How did this mindset influence your journey?

Oscar Chalupsky: From winning in Australia to becoming a national celebrity, I realised the need for self-promotion in a sport overshadowed by mainstream games. I took the initiative to bring celebrities into events like the Duzi, generating attention and elevating the sport’s status. Clive Rice, a sponsor, acknowledged loyalty’s value. Despite being in a less popular sport, my efforts to position myself and the Chalupsky family made us recognisable, showcasing the importance of thinking creatively to attain deserved recognition.

Alec Hogg: Your book covers these stories, highlighting your creative approach to garner recognition. How do you reflect on these experiences now?

Oscar Chalupsky: The book encapsulates my journey, and I’ve deliberately avoided delving into too much detail to maintain its enjoyment for readers. Today, facing a significant health battle four years beyond the initial prognosis, I’m reminded of the importance of resilience and creative thinking. The experiences shared in the book serve as a testament to overcoming challenges by thinking outside the box.

Alec Hogg: Given your current health battle, what coaching or insights do you think you can provide to others?

Oscar Chalupsky: I believe there’s still much to share and coach. Despite my ongoing health challenges, the journey itself is a lesson in resilience, determination, and finding unconventional solutions. Coaching isn’t just about success; it’s also about navigating difficulties and adapting to unexpected circumstances. I aim to impart the wisdom gained through my experiences to inspire and guide others in their own journeys.

Alec Hogg: Facing a battle against cancer, you’ve become a source of inspiration for others. Can you share your perspective on supporting fellow cancer sufferers?

Oscar Chalupsky: Certainly, Alec. Every day, individuals, including young kids and cancer patients, reach out for advice on fighting their battles. I emphasise the importance of mental strength and belief. When faced with a grim prognosis, maintaining a positive mindset is crucial. Even when the odds seemed against me, lying on my deathbed, I remained determined and sought alternative approaches. I always stress the significance of mental fortitude as it’s easy to falter when one is down and out.

Alec Hogg: Your journey involves battling multiple myeloma, a form of bone marrow cancer. How do you approach the challenge and provide guidance to others?

Oscar Chalupsky: Upon learning about my multiple myeloma diagnosis, a cancer currently without a cure, I realized the importance of self-education. I’ve come to understand that cancer often stems from lifestyle factors like stress and poor dietary choices. When I faced a relapse, I sought the expertise of Professor Thomas Seyfried, who highlighted the metabolic nature of cancers, emphasising their reliance on food, particularly carbohydrates. I advocate for cleaning up one’s lifestyle, emphasising that stress and dietary habits contribute significantly to cancer development.

Alec Hogg: You’ve undertaken a 21-day fast as part of your strategy. How did this unconventional approach impact your battle against cancer?

Oscar Chalupsky: During my health journey, I embraced a 21-day fast, defying medical expectations. Fasting, as I discovered, played a pivotal role in my recovery. It showcased the effectiveness of unconventional methods, challenging the conventional norms in cancer treatment. I believe in continually researching and learning, reading multiple books each month to stay informed and adapt to new insights.

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Alec Hogg: Considering the reluctance of pharmaceutical and food industries to share certain truths, what frustrations do you encounter in your pursuit of unconventional cancer treatments?

Oscar Chalupsky: One significant frustration lies in the lack of transparency from big pharmaceutical and food companies. Their reluctance to promote unconventional methods, which may not be profitable, limits access to potentially effective treatments. For instance, my exploration into the metabolic nature of cancers led me to Professor Thomas Seyfried’s insights. However, these alternative perspectives are often sidelined due to financial interests.

Alec Hogg: Exploring unconventional treatments, have you considered alternative remedies like cannabis, which reportedly aided others in their cancer battles?

Oscar Chalupsky: While cannabis has been helpful for some, it didn’t significantly impact my journey. I’ve researched its potential benefits, particularly in managing stress and anxiety. However, everyone’s approach to cancer is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. I prefer staying positive and adopting strategies like paddling, which serves as my form of meditation.

Alec Hogg: Given your wealth of experience, what advice do you offer to others dealing with cancer, and are there additional lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Oscar Chalupsky: I stress the importance of having a robust support system and maintaining a positive mindset. In the face of adversity, mental strength plays a pivotal role. Personalised approaches are key, and while some may find solace in medical marijuana or other unconventional methods, each individual’s journey is unique. Networking and seeking support, even through limited social media, can uplift and provide the necessary encouragement to navigate through tough times. Learning and constantly improving oneself should remain a priority, fostering resilience in the face of challenges.

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