The first quadriplegic in the world to complete an Ironman triathlon, South African and Paralympian Pieter “Supa Piet” du Preez has been busy showing the world anything is still possible after a spinal cord injury, and boy does he make it look good.
Also fully independent despite a C6 injury, as well as an actuarial analyst by day with a company that also sponsors his training, this married man hasn’t let his injury stop him from reaching for his dreams.
Why he’s fearless
Growing up, Pieter was a lifelong athlete. And throughout his teens into his early twenties, Pieter began doing triathlons. He was even chosen for the South African ‘under 23’ Triathlon team, South African Student’s cycling team. But in 2003 when he was 23 years old, while cycling to a chiropractic appointment ironically enough to get his spinal aligned, Pieter was hit by a woman in a car that didn’t see him.
Right away Pieter knew something was wrong, but he used his energy to reassure the lady who hit him that it was OK and then he forgave her. Once at the hospital, Pieter was diagnosed with C6 quadriplegia, and was on a ventilator the first month of his injury. A definite rough start, but not for long.
Eventually, Pieter regained enough strength and was sent home. He tried adapted sports, with handcycling one of the first sports he tried. Even though he has no triceps movement, Pieter’s biceps and shoulders grew quite strong. So much so that he made it to the 2008 Paralympics, but his category the 100 m sprint, was eliminated that year. It was however brought back in 2012 at the London Paralympics, with Peter placing 6th in the 100 m sprint.
And it was in 2010 when he made history being the first quadriplegic to complete an Ironman triathlon – the Brusselton Ironman located in Australia. It was a 1/2 triathlon, with Pieter swimming 3.8 kilometers (on his back doing the backstroke solo, mainly using his shoulders), 180 kilometers on the handcycle and another 42.2 kilometers in his racing chair. Truly outstanding.
And in 2012, after placing in the London Paralympics, his employer Deloitte, where he works as an actuarial analyst and calculates liabilities, took notice and decided to sponsor his training, letting him work for 3/4 days (6 hours a day) so he can train for at minimum 2 hours a day. Pieter trains overall around 40 hours a week.
Pieter is also a motivational speaker, sharing his story with groups around South Africa, inspiring them to do more. And he speaks with his wife Illse, whom he met post-injury. The two are too seriously positive individuals.
And Red Bull’s recently completed Wings for Life Marathon on May 6th was also something Pieter was heavily involved in. He is an ambassador for Red Bull’s Wings for Life, and has a snazzy profile on their site. Check it out here
Now 35 and happily married in addition to a great job, Pieter’s future looks bright. And update: Pieter has completed 2 full Ironman triathlons! What can’t this guy do?
Do you think a quadriplegic can complete a full Ironman triathlon?
– Follow him on Twitter via @supapiet
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