South Africa’s Supa Piet is back home and celebrating after becoming the world’s first quadriplegic athlete to complete a Ironman 70.3 event. Pieter accomplished this world first on Sunday 26 May at the Australian seaside town of Busselton, chosen for the flatness of the course, and was the only quad competing against a field of athletes that included an Australian Olympian. He not only finished but left about 150 able-bodied athletes trailing in his wake.
Back in his office at Deloitte, Johannesburg where he works as a senior actuarial analyst, Pieter du Preez had another piece of news awaiting – he was notified that he has been chosen to don the green and gold and turn out for South Africa’s team of hand-cyclists who will be competing in World Cup events in Italy and Spain shortly.
This is the second time that Pieter has qualified to compete in these events, however this time round, he has qualified to race with the class above him (H1.2). This means that he will be taking to the field competing against athletes whose injuries do not include limited hand grip and elbow extension, as is the case with Pieter, who only has 15% muscle movement in his body.
Pieter completed the Busselton course in a creditable six hours and 36 minutes, smashing his personally set target of seven hours and 30 minutes. He completed the sea swim in 54 minutes; spent three hours and 55 minutes on the bike and completed the run in one hour 33 minutes.
“I smashed it,” he says, a smile spreading over his face. But, he is also the first to admit that there were challenges along the way. Shortly before the event he had a touch of the flu and for a while it looked like the sea swim leg of the race would be too difficult because of the weather conditions.
However, on the day, the sea was calm, his flu had cleared and Pieter was ready.
It was while he still had 35 kilometres to cover during the 90km bike leg that potential disaster struck again. There was a puncture on one of his hand bike’s three tyres.
“I thought I had hit the wall, as I didn’t hear the tyre go,” Pieter recalls. “Luckily, with the hand bike you have two large tyres at the back and it was one of those that went. It slowed me down, but I was able to finish riding on the flat tyre – it would have taken too long to stop and fix it.” Despite this, however, he still managed to cycle the course at an average speed of 23km/h.
“I also lost about 10 minutes during the running portion of the event as the track was narrow and I was slowed down by people who were slower than me. Besides those things, I had a good event and became the first quad in the world to finish a half Ironman event – that is something that nobody can ever take away from me. I may have been dizzy and unable to see due to dehydration when I crossed the line, but I did it.”
Questioned about whether his fellow South Africans could expect to see Pieter’s performance featured in the Guinness Book of Records, he admits that it never occurred to him to make an application before the event. If the publishers will accept documentation and consider the achievement on a retrospective basis, this could well take place, he says.
In the meantime, Supa Piet, as he has been christened by his colleagues at Deloitte, is riding high.
“I thought it was going to be toughest thing I had ever tried in my life, but it wasn’t. I think that I was so ready and fit for this. A couple of things made it harder for me, but I now have no doubt in my mind that I can do a full Ironman.”
Adding to his motivation was the support he received from colleagues, tweeted messages and encouragement from the athletes on the day. Most of his appreciation is, however, reserved for his wife and the people who helped him during the 200 training sessions he had before leaving for Australia.
“The race did what it was meant to do. It made me believe that I could do an Ironman. I am going to set the date for this event – the greatest dream of my life,” he says.