What happens to you when you are 23 and pressing to become one of the top triathletes in the country, closing in on a dream to qualify for the Olympics and its all taken away from you when you are hit by a motor vehicle that renders you a quadriplegic? Well Piet du Preez experienced this and instead of mourning the loss of the use of his legs and most other movements in his body, he embraced the opportunity of life and went about on a new goal. On the 8 December 2013, Piet du Preez became the first “quad” to ever finish an Ironman race. I was fortunate enough to meet “Supa Piet” and had a chat to him about all things sport.
Jabu: Piet, awesome to meet you, I have to know, how when the car hit you did you not give up?
Piet: I have a spiritual background so I could always rely on God to steer me in the right direction. I also am a very forward facing person, I looked at the situation and I understood what had happened and wanted to move forward.
Jabu: Incredible stuff. But how did you motivate yourself?
Piet: I was told that I couldn’t do certain things, but I started challenging myself. It started with something as simple as dressing myself. I set a goal of being able to dress myself completely within 30 minutes. It took a while, but I timed myself everyday and saw gradual improvements. When I got under 30 minutes I aimed for 20 minutes, then 10 and so on. This small thing made me realise that I could improve on anything by challenging myself. I don’t time myself everyday anymore, but this morning was 2 minutes and 14 seconds.
Piet: Absolutely. The hardest part was finding a circuit that is not too hilly, as the cycle portion I lose a lot of time. The best was Busselton in Australia. In 2012 I became the first quad to ever compete and finish the half Ironman and now I finished the full Ironman. I was told it was impossible, but I just see that as a way of saying I’m possible.
Jabu: And you finished in a time of 13 hours 20 minutes, that was just under four hours inside the cut-off. Was that far beyond your goals?
Piet: Actually I had been aiming for a sub 13 hours, but six weeks before the race I was broke my arm in a training accident. I obviously adjusted my goal to completing the race rather than a specific time. I was delighted with my time.
Jabu: And rightfully so, you finished the race ahead of hundreds of fully able-bodied people. Having competed at the Paralympics and this Ironman what is next?
Jabu: Speaking of Paralympics, how does the profile of the likes of Natalie du Toit, Ernst van Dyk and Lucas Sithole help you in your sport?
Piet: Well it obviously helps the exposure of people to the paralympian sports, but it doesn’t get me any sponsorship or coverage, I need to still do the hard work myself. Which I am more than happy to do!
Jabu: What about your support team and sponsors that make everything possible?
Piet: I have an incredible support team in my wife Illse, she does everything for me and I am eternally greatful for her. I have also been given reduced hours at my day job at Deloitte and the company as a whole give me exceptional support. I am truly blessed.
Piet: You can do anything you put your mind to, there is nothing that we can’t achieve if we put our hearts to it. Also you have to live life fully, you are not on a second chance of life, you are still completing the first chance, make the most of it.
Jabu: Thank you Piet. You have also been announced as an ambassador for the World Run, why is this important for you?
Piet: Look, not everyone is as fortunate as I am and a lot of people will struggle with the mental hurdles you have to overcome. The Wings for Life foundation are doing the research overseas and that research will be shared with us. If it means they can help one person in the future, that will be incredible stuff.
Jabu: Thanks Piet, Good luck for the training!