About four years ago I decided to give up smoking (for the fourth time in my life) and in order to keep me on track, a friend of mine signed me up for a triathlon. Excellent.
After teaching myself to run and getting myself to a position where I could run 5 km and ride 20 km, I thought that things were looking up.
With a young son and a new healthy outlook on life, January 1, 2008 saw me up and out for a day of exercise. My swim was great and as my physio had asked me not to run for a few weeks while he sorted out an issue with my knee, I jumped on the bike instead for a leisurely ride.
About an hour in though, a car decided to cut across my path while I was doing 45 kph. The rest as they say, is history.
From witness accounts I hit the front side of the car, smashed the windscreen and compressed the roof, at which point, I flipped over and then went about 40 feet down the road.
The next thing I recall is being pumped full of morphine in an ambulance.
Resulting injuries were a shattered leg, broken ribs, damaged wrist, broken fingers, broken jaw, and some missing teeth.
The next 10 months saw me constantly in and out of the hospital for various reconstruction issues. The initial plate- and pin- work in my leg failed after the first six weeks (possibly due to the fact that I was back on a bike and spinning on the turbo). My sports physios (to whom I owe an eternal debt for getting me back on my feet, literally) reviewed my X-rays and noted that the bones had been positioned so badly that I would never be able to run again; possibly never even walk again unaided. The whole repair was in what the next surgical team referred to as “a critical state of failure”.
After changing surgical teams it was decided that they should open me back up, remove all of the metal, place me in a Taylor Spatial Frame to hold everything in place, and graft a section of my hip into my leg to help it rebuild.
After the initial four-week period the surgeons removed the top section of the frame that then allowed me to start to try to mobilise again. The look on peoples' faces at the local swimming pool and hydrotherapy pool was always one of horror as they saw me being dragged out of the pool with a huge frame around my leg. As resistance training methods go, I would not recommend it!
The physios kept me on a fairly tight programme to try and build my quad strength back and maximise mobility. The frame prevented me from riding (despite my best efforts) but swimming and walking was maintained, to a degree.
After five long months of isolation, opiates and pain, the final rods were removed from my leg. Now the journey would really begin.
The physios worked hard on building the muscles, stability and control as best as they could. I resumed turbo training at a gentle pace and was regularly racking up 150-200 km a week.
As I didn’t want to damage any of the work that had been done, I contacted Nick de Meyer, one of the TrainingBible U.K. coaches whom I had seen earlier in the year about bike fits and personal training, to try and assist with the work the physios were already doing. We did a bike fit, wedged my cleats, and corrected the residual imbalances left over from the surgery. While we were talking, Nick sowed the seed that just because I was slightly hampered and was never going to run again, there was no reason that I should have to give up on my triathlon dreams. Unfortunately though, he had me hooked fairly quickly on the dream of crossing the finish line of an Ironman event.
With a lot of hard work from my physios, my coach, and myself, I crossed the finish line in Austria last year at the Ironman 70.3 and came in with a respectable time of 6 hours and 40 minutes. Not blistering quick for an age group finish but I couldn't run, and considering it was thought that I may never walk properly again, I was pleased to say the least.
Almost a year later and the diagnosis is that I am going to have to have my knees replaced in the next 5-10 years, and that I have the joy of arthritis to look forward to.
On the plus, side I’m off to the 70.3 in Switzerland and Antwerp this year, as well as an end of the season race in the U.K. at the end of September. And if those go well, maybe IM glory will be mine next year.
The sport is great, the people are great, and the sense of achievement is second to none. If you can believe in yourself and propogate that out to others, then anything is possible. If you ever get a down day, kick yourself, start to believe again and get on with it. Never ever say “never”.