At just 35 years old, Sid James from Victor Harbor was training for his first ironman triathlon when he fell from his bike and the injuries to his C3 vertebrae left him a quadriplegic. Now 58, his dream of participating in the iconic IRONMAN World Championships in Hawaii is one step closer following an offer from his friend and triathlete Kevin Fergusson.
The friends used to race together before Mr James was injured. Mr Fergusson, also 58, is a four-time Age Group World Champion and holds other triathlete accolades including Australian Triathlete of the Year. This year he’s been accepted to race in is his fifth IRONMAN World Championships in October.
After seeing the inspirational Dick and Rick Hoyt team race at an event, Mr Fergusson decided he could do the same with his friend at the Championships. Rick Hoyt was born with cerebral palsy and he competes in athletic events with his father Dick using special equipment to push, carry or tow him. The duo has been completing fun runs, marathons and triathlons since 1977.
“He [Sid] broke down in tears when I told him what I wanted to do,” says Mr Fergusson. So, in what is believed to be an Australian first they have made a special application to the ironman organisers.
“My passion is to get him around – he’s done a lot for the sport,” says Mr Fergusson. “Age is not a barrier when it comes to doing these things; people at the age of 80 keep doing these races.”
The IRONMAN World Championships will be a challenge. It will see Mr Fergusson tow James, who is around 90kg, in an inflatable kayak 3.8km, then ride 180km with him in a chair attached to his bike, and then push him in a three-wheeled chair running a 42.2km marathon.
Mr Fergusson’s training sees him get up between 4 – 4.30am each day so he can fit in the 30- 40 hours training required to bring him into peak condition. Fortunately the outdoor recreation lecturer with TAFE SA says his work fits in with his training.
He thinks the swimming will be the easiest part “We’ve purchased a special kayak and I can do the 1.5km in 24 minutes,” he says.
Mr James faces different challenges. “Sid has a fear of water so getting into a kayak is hard; he can’t do anything if he falls out so we’ve got a life jacket which will turn him the right way up if he capsizes,” Mr Fergusson explains. “And with bike speeds of 20-60km/hr, he has to have faith in me I’m not going to crash.”
Another major challenge is raising the $50,000 to get to Hawaii. “There are a lot of logistics to get a quadriplegic there – finding the right hotel and flight is a challenge,” he points out.
“Plus there is the special equipment – the bike chair is around $8500, and Sid needs four carers and a doctor to accompany him too.”
Closer to home, the pair are preparing for the Victor Harbor triathlon in March. Mr James set up this event and has been the race director for over 20 years.
“He’s never had chance to do his own event,” explains Mr Fergusson. “I’ve achieved my goals and I’m getting more enjoyment out of helping other people achieve their goal.”