Johannesburg-based athlete Pieter du Preez was 23 years old when he was hit by a car and his life changed forever.
His femur, knee, and neck were broken in the accident and after spending 42 days in the Intensive Care Unit he was unable to move at all. Over time Pieter made marginal improvements, but today, as a C6 (the site of the injury to the spinal cord) quadriplegic he doesn’t have triceps, can’t move his hands or fingers and is paralysed from the chest down. But this hasn’t stopped him from becoming an athletic great.
Pieter’s love for the sport was ignited when he began playing rugby in a wheelchair while in rehab. Less than 9 years later he competed in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London and two years after that, he became the first quadriplegic in the world to complete the grueling Ironman triathlon and then set the world record for the 10 000m wheelchair race in 2015. As if this wasn’t enough, Pieter also became the first quadriplegic person to swim from Cape Town to Robben Island.
Pieter explains that his achievements aren’t just for himself. He wants to inspire others with disabilities. “It’s not that I want other quads to go do an Ironman, but, by doing the impossible things, others can start to see it is possible.”
On the 4th of September, his hopes of winning the 2018 Ironman were dashed when his wheelchair got a flat tyre. The Ironman rules prevent athletes from getting help to make repairs to their equipment so Pieter rode the last 53km with a flat tyre. He is now championing that this rule is changed for disabled athletes and has vowed to be back for the next event in Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay.
“We must carry on and educate each other about paraplegics!” this local hero has promised.