The South African who became the first quadriplegic in the world to complete the gruelling Ironman triathlon chats to YOU about his amazing achievement.
Pieter du Preez (34), an actuarial analyst at Deloitte in Johannesburg, completed the full 226km in 13 hours and 24 minutes on 8 December in Busselton, West Australia.
That’s almost four hours below the strict cut-off time.
Pieter, who also took part in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, was 23 when he was paralysed in a freak accident. Since then he’s been a C6 quadriplegic, which means he can only move his head, shoulders and arms.
But this man, who’s wanted to be a professional triathlon athlete from a young age, has not let it get him down. To be able to swim he developed special double arm backstroke. “It’s like butterfly on your back,” Pieter, who swam the full 3,8km in the sea, explains.
He covered the 180km cycle event on a reclining handcycle, and the marathon on a specially adapted three-wheel wheelchair.
He was supported for the whole route by good friend Walter Lutsch. “In the swimming event he made sure I stayed on course because I couldn’t turn around to see where I was going. In the cycling event he rode behind me and sprayed me with water because, as a result of my neck injury, I don’t sweat and run the risk of overheating. In the running event – or rolling in my case – he went ahead to warn the other athletes there was a wheelchair approaching,” Pieter says.
Pieter du Preez was accompanied by good friend Walter Lutsch. What makes his achievement even more remarkable is the fact that Pieter broke his left arm during the 94.7 cycle races just six weeks before Ironman. “An inexperienced cyclist made a U-turn in front of me and I hit the fork of his bike and broke my arm in three places,” Pieter says. The bone had to be joined with a plate and screws and his arm was in plaster for two weeks.
“The doctors all told me I shouldn’t do the Ironman but I’m a believer,” he says.
He had special splints made for his arm so he could exercise despite the pain, and went ahead with his rigorous training programme.
For five months he trained for an average of five hours a day, seven days a week.
After his success in Australia, he hopes to compete in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii next year. “I chose the Australian Ironman because the route is flat. Hawaii’s is the most difficult.
“It’s hot, up to 40 degrees celsius, and there are a lot of hills. I’m now waiting to hear whether my time is good enough to compete. My story is special and I hope that counts in my favour.”