TWENTY-THREE years after becoming a quadriplegic and left without the use of his arms and legs, Victor Harbor man Sid James is on the verge of doing the impossible — the Hawaii Ironman.
He had the entry form for his first Ironman triathlon on the bench at home in 1993 but never got to fill it out after he fell from his bike and became a C3 quadriplegic.
But now the 58-year-old is preparing for the sport’s most gruelling test and at its holy grail in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Having qualified to race his fifth Hawaii Ironman next October, top Adelaide triathlete Kevin Fergusson has offered to take James with him — and by that he means literally every step of the journey.
The pair have applied to organisers to complete the gruelling event together in what is believed to be an Australian first.
That means Fergusson will swim 3.8km while towing James in an inflatable boat or kayak, then ride 180km with James in a chair attached to his bike, then run a 42.2km marathon while pushing James in a three-wheel chair.
“It would be a dream come true, that was going to be my pinnacle just to do one ironman when I was 35,” James said.
World champion triathlete Kevin Fergusson is training with quadriplegic Sid James, for the Hawaii Ironman next year. Picture: Roger Wyman
“I had my entry form to race in New South Wales on my table but I never got to fill it in.
“Now to go to Hawaii — I’d be over the moon.”
Fergusson, 57, is still one of the state’s top triathletes.
He is a 13-time world champion in his age group and last year completed the
‘Iron 5 for 55’ challenge which saw him race five Ironmans while raising $55,000 for cancer.
He’s done more than 30 Ironmans in total with a PB of 9hrs 2mins, and is a regular competitor at the Victor Harbor Triathlon which is organised and run by James.
“We’ve always talked about Hawaii and Sid contacted me to ask if I’d be his chaperone next year because he wanted to go and watch me race,” Fergusson said.
“I’ve known Sid for over 20 years, he’s made me a life member of the Victor Harbor Triathlon and has always looked after me, and I was honoured he wanted to watch me race.”
And that got Fergusson thinking.
The outdoor recreation lecturer with TAFE was in Hawaii in 2006 when Dick Hoyt finished the race with son Rick who has cerebral palsy.
“So I said to Sid ‘instead of watching me, why don’t you get a doctor’s clearance and do it with me?’” Fergusson said.
“You should have seen his eyes light up, it gave him a real spark and that’s what I get a buzz out of.”
Neither are taking the challenge lightly with Sid changing his diet and already dropping weight.
“I told Sid ‘I’m going to have to do extra training so you’re going to have to as well’ and to his credit he’s lost 10kg in three months because the lighter he is the easier it will be to get around,” Fergusson said.
Kevin Ferguson last year finished five Ironmans while raising $55,000 for cancer.
If approved to race they will both enter the water off the island of Kona to start before dawn on October 14, 2017.
Weather will dictate whether James is in an inflatable boat or kayak but wearing an inflatable lifejacket and in a special seat he will be towed by Fergusson who will wear a harness around his waist.
Once on the road, James will be moved into another chair that will be secured to Fergusson’s bike with a pole and swivel to cope with the expected strong winds.
For the run, Fergusson will push James in a three-wheel chair which will be able to handle corners and hills.
“Obviously I’m going to have to train with that extra weight so I’ve got a wetsuit with 1kg weights and I’ll take the chair to the hills and go riding,” Fergusson said.
“The cut-off time is 17 hours but I’m hoping we could do it in around 15, realistically I’d like to get there before it gets dark.”
Along with his day-to-day electric chair, James will take four chairs in total with him to Hawaii as well as two carers and a doctor.
They plan to have a practice run at James’ very own event, the Victor Harbor Triathlon, in March.
“I get all excited thinking about it and then I think ‘what if we can’t do it?’” James said.
“But people have said ‘you can’t do that’ to me before and it’s never stopped me.”