Alwyn Uys wasn’t always smashing athletic records in Ironman competitions and long-distance swimming.
Six years ago he felt like he was “living in a nightmare”. The one-time Maties rugby player had been in a near-fatal car crash and broke his back, leaving him paralysed from the waist down.
“The first time [I heard the news] it felt like I was living someone else’s nightmare. I just could not believe that this is happening to me. It took me years to fully adapt,” he recalls.
It wasn’t an easy process, but Alwyn (30) never gave up on himself, and set his sights on new challenges.
In 2019 he became the first paraplegic South African to successfully complete a Half Ironman in Durban, and in December last year he became the first paraplegic athlete to swim from Robben Island to Blouberg Beach, a distance of eight kilometres of turbulent, open ocean.
His next goal, he said at the time, was to complete a full Ironman triathlon, which he did recently.
The triathlon, which took place in Durbanville in Cape Town, included a 1,9km swim, 90km bike ride and 21km run.
Alwyn completed it in five-and-a-half hours, 30 minutes ahead of his goal of completing the challenge in six hours. He used a handcycle to cycle and a racing wheelchair for the run.
“I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to see how far I can push it,” he says.
To prepare for sporting events, Alwyn trains for 15 to 20 hours a week, a process he describes as “quite gruelling”.
“The events are tough, but training is where the magic is.”
The most challenging part of the triathlon, he says, was the swim. He prepared by getting up at 5am for a cold-water swim at his local gym.
His favourite of the triathlon activities was cycling because he enjoys “the time I have on the road, that I have with my thoughts and being out in nature”.
Having turned his life around after the car crash, Alwyn is intent on showing others that it is possible to stay positive, even under the toughest circumstances, and to overcome hardships.
“Sport is just my way of reaching people,” he says.
Alwyn, who is working on a book and a documentary about his life and struggles and accomplishments, shares motivational messages and training videos on his social media accounts. His YouTube channel is his favourite, he says, as it allows him to share more about his life.
“I don’t base my hope in my circumstances or what I see around me or the fact that I’m in a wheelchair. I’m very religious so I keep my eyes on the Lord.”
The documentary, titled Against All Odds, is due for release at the end of this year, and charts his experience at the Durban Ironman in 2019. His autobiography “is about hope. I write about the giants I have faced and overcoming them. My hope is that it will inspire people to overcome whatever they are facing in their lives”.