Star para-athlete Pieter du Preez rubbed shoulders with the best when he attended the 17th Laureus World Sports Awards in Berlin last month.
The 36-year-old, who was the only South African among the six nominees in his category, joined the likes of Usain Bolt and Lionel Messi at the awards function.
The University of Johannesburg alumnus and actuarial analyst at Deloitte said it was an amazing experience.
“To represent my country at the awards was really special,” he said. “To be recognised on the world stage was a huge honour.
Du Preez scooped gold medals in the time-trial and road races in the H1 Class at the Para-Cycling world road championships in Switzerland last August.
He is also the only quadriplegic to have completed an Ironman triathlon. Now a veteran of three events, he said it was a “journey every time”.
“For the level of function I have, it still surprises most people that I can do it.”
Du Preez’s life changed when he was involved in a cycling accident during his honours year at UJ.
“A car hit me and left me a C6 quadriplegic, which means I can only move my wrists, biceps, neck and shoulders.”
He has not let anything get in the way of his success and has many more goals to reach.
“I have achieved a lot, but there is always more. Getting to Rio is on my list.”
The marathon world record, some track world records and a sub 12-hour Ironman were other big goals, he said.
Du Preez, also a Wings for Life World Run ambassador, said he trained anything from two to five hours per day, seven days a week.
“The hardest and most important part is recovering,” said Du Preez, who works three-quarter days.
When it comes to motivation, he said he focused on inspiration.
“We all have the power to inspire. A simple smile at the supermarket or telling someone ‘good job’ at work can change that person’s day.”