I was born in Springbok on 23 December 1947. In standard 6 (grade 8) I began a colourful variety of sports. I tried gymnastics but could not stand on my head, let alone make a hand-stand. I tried to swim and almost drowned, I tried cricket, but couldn’t see the ball coming so fast. My rugby was also a disaster – always in the wrong place and completely forgot the rules. I clearly lacked what we would call “ball sense”. So I ran. With below average genetic ability I could only make the B relay team at “home sport athletics”. During my last year at high school I won all running events and was the first U-17 boy in the old ‘Transvaal’ to go below 2 minutes in the half mile, and third in the country that year. Then followed some rapid improvements over the next 2 years: Defence champ, university champ and 5th at SA’s under 19 – while still only 17. I studied Mechanical Engineering at Stellenbosch there were plenty opportunities to practice things other than running. Spear fishing, sky diving, off-road and on-road motor cycling, under-water hockey, wave skiing, boating and of course’ socialising.
The next 15 years was spent semi-active, like most young men at that age, studies, career and relationships took preference. At the end of 1982 I decided to start running again, and so began my quest to do my first Comrades Marathon. By end of March 1983 I ran my first marathon in 3:30 and my first Comrades in 7:33. This was followed by another 9 on the trot up to green number, of which two under 7 hours. Best marathon was 2:45. Certainly no mean fireworks in the running fraternity, but consistent. Running soon became a bore so I put a bike together with free and cheap parts and this pulled me through my first of 8 consecutive Canoe IronMan races during the 80s and 90s. Swim triathlons were not so popular at the time so most triathletes just paddled. I once competed in an event called ‘UltraMan’. This consisted of the simple addition of points of 11 existing popular endurance events on the SA calendar, such as 160 km bike races, ultra run marathons, Duzi canoe marathon, Midmar swim, Comrades and the Canoe IronMan. I made top 10 gold placements 8 times in a row and dominated the veteran category. At the time there were no 5 year interval age groups like now. Under 40 was “senior” and over 40 was “veteran”. In 1987 I tried my hand at a ”hundred miler” and finished the 160 km run in twelfth place.
During the late 80’s and early 90’s I was awarded Springbok Colours for triathlon and duathlon. In June 1992 I went to Germany for the World Duathlon Champs and managed a sixth place in my age group. This was his last endurance race for nearly another 2 decades. During this period I was much focussed on his career and family, but still enjoyed “pumping iron” in the gym. Realising that age and generics were against me I nevertheless enjoyed the technical side of resistance training: planning routines and quantifying improvement suited his engineering mind. The convenience of the gym was a serious plus all year round. I also took my job as mechanical engineer serious and held a directorship in a large engineering group. My family life is important all along and education for my 3 kiddies a major priority.
In 2012 I ran Comrades again after a 20 year lay-off, and also experienced what a South Coast wave does to a Mickey Mouse paddle skier. In addition I collected some steel inserts in his collar bones – courtesy of a mountain bike. Wanting to come back to triathlons was simple as far as the cycling and running stages were concerned, but the swim was another chapter. No matter how hard I tried, my legs would sink and he moved forward at snail pace. After devouring all “how-to-swim” info on the Internet I knew how to swim but still could not do it.
Dealing with Injuries: In the late 70s I was a keen off-road motor cyclist. During one 6 month period I was in plaster 5 times – broken arms and legs, dislodged knees and shoulders, etc. I learnt that recovery from injuries can be far quicker than anticipated by the average medical practitioner. Once you get the drift of what recovery exercises the physiotherapist wants you to do, you simply do much more of it and stay just short of the pain barrier all the time. Usually the surgeon that performed the operation is most impressed with your recovery rate, since he compares it with that of Average Joe. One major advantage of a multi sportsman is that no matter how bad the injury, there is always some way to train. I coined the phrase: “When injured, do not stop training. Do not train through the injury either, but train around the injury.” For example, with both legs in plaster nothing stops you from training your upper body with weights.
Biggest Disappointment: Ironman 2012 knocked my ego but not my confidence. Having successfully completed Ironman 70.3 (first in my age group) I took a shot at full IMSA in April 2012. A strong wind was blowing but the race organisers nevertheless decided the swim will go ahead. As we went into the second lap, the wind picked up substantially, causing the back markers to be blown off course. I kept going in that howling wind until the rubber duck picked me up just short of the last buoy. After swimming for 2 hrs 20 minutes I was disqualified from continuing with the race. It was the most devastating day in my sports career. Hypothermic and extremely disappointed, my wife drove me to the guesthouse for a shower. We had breakfast at the hotel opposite the action and I ordered a bottle of red wine to soothe the pain of failure. It was awful sitting there with other spectators looking and feeling so use-less. I was angry: why could I not finish the other two stages as a DQ? Why did the race organisers not extend the swim cut-off when they saw the wind picking up in the second lap? I did not enjoy watching the race unfold in from of me while I was having my wine-breakfast.
Then, about a week later someone sent me an insignificant work related e mail. On the footage was a slogan that read: Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is just that quite voice inside that says “I’ll try again” – The day before that catastrophic 2012 Ironman I bought enough “help-me-look-tough” T shirts at the expo with the IM emblem – so that after the race I could show the world how hot I was. These T shirts now had to be moth-balled for at least a year. When asked about my plans for the 2013 Ironman, I responded typically by just saying “I have entered”. The 2013 race went fine. I may now wear those T shirts that I bought in 2012.
Biggest Moment: One of my best achievements was finishing the 100 Miler – which I did only once. Coming into the Cecil Paine Stadium for the finish, there were a small crowd of about 30 people which included race officials, seconds and family. The runner in front of me was several minutes ahead and the runner behind me was several minutes behind. They played Chariots of Fire on the sound system for every runner that finished and called him/her by the name. I found that to be overwhelmingly emotional and cried like a baby after running for more than 18 hours.
Inspiration: When meeting a ‘disabled’ athlete, one can only cringe in shame for not training 24 hrs a day! I could talk for hours in awe about the incredible inputs and achievements by some of these handicapped sportsmen and -women. However, as much as we get huge inspiration from those dedicated to do the best with the limited that they have got, we frequently do not realise that we (as able-bodied athletes) are also a huge inspiration to the sedentary folks out there. I found that just age alone can be highly inspirational to younger people. They express their amazement at the training efforts and performance of older athletes – I have found that inspiring others acts as counter-inspiration for me to work harder too! It is indeed rewarding to observe the positive effect that we can have on other aspiring athletes.
My Motivation: Training can be fun and training can be a burden. It is what you make of it. Easy to say “you need a goal”, but goals are not always necessarily the outcome of one event. It could also be something like “to keep practicing endurance sport for as long as I am healthy”. “No pain, no gain” is a touch slogan to pursue. We are all just human and frequently simply lazy. But formally planning and quantifying training routines help to make it a given for the day. Having said this, I also think it is equally important to take a break mentally and physically after a main event: albeit training different muscle groups or practicing a different sport. I enjoy the attention and applause – an extrovert and self admitted egotist a little bit. Pursuit of praise helps as a driving force to excel!
I am very aware that it is a privilege to be healthy, to have an above average physical ability for my age, to have the time and opportunities to practice sport, to have the money to pay for sports activities – and the motivation to do it. I am thankful (in a religious sense as well) for all these privileges, and therefore consider it my duty to practice endurance sport – as opposed to viewing it as a coincidental prospect. To live life to the fullest we need to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way during the phases of our lives. Sport is just one of those. In my current life-phase of retirement, however, sport is the most prevalent opportunity to pursue. So, for the foreseeable future I am planning on chipping away at the varieties and combos of endurance sport such as paddling, cycling, swimming and running. Priorities for are determined by the need for physical ability: the older you get, the less physically demanding the activities – let’s see what happens.
At my age, and throughout my life, I have always tried to look at the opportunities, not the setbacks, nor the challenges. A life lived with “No Excuses” is far richer and more rewarding by simply allowing yourself to look past your obstacles and use them as a stepping stone to live out your full potential. I am fortunate to be blessed with a wonderful wife for more than 40 years. I do not take my wife and 3 great kids (and grandkids) for granted, nor any of the special friends I’ve made and I am sincerely thankful for their collective role in my life as well.