Para-cyclist Pieter du Preez has three road world championship titles and this year he is adamant he can make it a fourth when the Para-cycling Road World Championships start in Pietermaritzburg tomorrow.
“I’m wearing that rainbow jersey and I’m not planning on giving it up to anybody, especially not on home soil,” said Du Preez.
The 37-year-old, who is a quadriplegic, said he would compete in the road race and time-trial in the H1 category.
“My real advantage is it’s here at home and I’m so proudly South African that it gives me that extra fire in my belly to race.”
Du Preez’s life changed on October 6, 2003, when he was hit by a car. The broken femur and knee were the least of his worries, he said, as his neck had also been broken.
He spent 42 days in ICU and, initially, was unable to move anything. Over time, he regained the use of his wrists, biceps and shoulders and now has 15 per cent of the functionality of an able-bodied person.
“I’m now a C6 quadriplegic, which means I don’t have any triceps, I can’t move my fingers or hands and I’m completely paralysed from the chest down.”
The Sunninghill resident has since gone on to make history on numerous occasions.
In 2012, he competed in the Paralympics and, two years later, became the first quadriplegic to complete an Ironman. The following year he set the world record for the 10 000m wheelchair race.
This year he became the first quadriplegic person to swim from Cape Town to Robben Island.
The swim was a greater challenge than expected, he said. Unable to regulate his body temperature in the 15-degree water, hypothermia set in with 2km of the 8km swim left.
“I always want to be the first. Everyone knows who the first guy on the moon was; nobody knows who the second guy was.”
The new father explained he had a “weird” scale of judging how much his achievements meant to him.
“I don’t really cry, so moments that stand out are those that had me in tears.”
He said completing an Ironman, being named world champion for the first time in 2014 and breaking the 10 000m record were such moments.
Du Preez’s positivity and determination knows no bounds and he has already set his sights on his next challenge.
“I feel it’s your responsibility to be the best form of whatever you want to be and in the end, for me, it’s about doing things that defy what people believe is possible.
“I pick my challenges by looking at what is a real challenge for me. I ask myself what I think is so hard it almost can’t be done. Then I try and give it a go.”
His achievements were not just for himself, said Du Preez, though he admitted every accomplishment was a collaboration between himself, his wife and sponsors Velotex, PowerBar and Deloitte.
He said his next greatest challenge was slightly different in that it was one many people faced.
“Everybody is telling me now my biggest challenge will be raising a kid, and I do think that possibly will be quite a big one.”
In addition to tackling parenthood, he said he was aiming to break the marathon world record, achieve a sub-12-hour Ironman result and swim the English Channel.
Du Preez explained his ventures were not just for himself and that they often inspired 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.
“We all have that power to create hope, inspire and create a better life for those around us.”