A lot of people have asked why I run, and find it hard to accept my response: because I can. It demonstrates that a good answer requires context such that it can be understood. I was approached by our internal comms team for me to write my story, which later appeared for a whopping 3 whole days on the front page of the global intranet. My claim to fame was dramatic, responses unexpected and generally the feedback was incredibly supportive.
Here it is, in all its glory.
From a broken back to Ironman – my journey
In November 2009 I was involved in a rock climbing accident while training to become a Search and
Rescue volunteer. I fell some 5 metres, sustaining spinal injuries to my coccyx and some of my lumbar
vertebrae. I spent a week in the Auckland City Hospital emergency department before diagnosis could
commence. I could wiggle my fingers and toes, but sensation in my legs and feet was sketchy. “Try not
to move,” they said, “you risk paralysis otherwise”. Not my best moment, some would say, and in those
dark periods outside of visiting hours I would agree. It was a lonely and terrifying time bracing myself for
the possibility of living out my life restricted in movement, choice and options, with only the dispenser of
morphine to help.
The diagnosis indicated compression fractures to my first and third lumbar vertebrae, fractures to the
coccyx and some strained muscles/ligaments. I wouldn’t be paralysed, and life would largely return to
normal. The relief was immeasurable, although the prospect of playing sports would be severely limited.
I’d be reminded of the injuries for the rest of my life; diminished feeling in my right leg and foot, balance
issues and a slouching posture.
The following years of recovery were hard, both physically and mentally. Re-learning to walk took nearly
a year. I struggled with constant aches and pains, flash backs from the accident, withdrawing from
social engagements, and over time I developed a fear of being alive, scared of the ‘what if’ scenarios that
would lead to me falling and risk further injury and total paralysis.
A mental turning point
I’ve always been a goal orientated person, requiring a purpose, and my friends suggested that I get out
and find new hobbies. My weight had ballooned to over 130kg, and even my GP was becoming
concerned about my health. I simply had to change.
I started cycling as a means of getting around. In 2012 a work colleague joined me in the first of many
defining moments; entering and completing The Dual mountain bike event. Our placing wasn’t
remarkable, but I’d set out the big goal of not being afraid any more, improving my health, losing weight
and freeing myself of the psychological chains of being ‘disabled’.
This became a defining moment – I was able to turn my headspace around to focus on the positive,
breaking down what seemed impossible into chunks that were tangible, offered fast feedback and didn’t
cause stress. Having a team of people to provide support and guidance, and share the highs and lows
was also vital.
Later, I’d realise these are guiding principles to effective working practice.
Achieving the impossible
After this event, I asked myself ‘What next?’. The answer was simple – go find my limitations. I still had
a huge amount of weight to lose, and it was clear I wouldn’t do it through cycling alone. I bought a dog
and we became best friends.
Taking Sam for walks turned into jogs which turned into runs. I found the act of running liberating; the polar opposite of being confined to the hospital. “Try not to move” they said. Yeah, no way. And let’s be clear – my definition of running initially was barely faster than walking pace and for less than 400m. My first ever 5km took over an hour and two weeks of recovery. The important thing though was, I could recover and do it again. And so I did. The latest goal, running a marathon, was achieved despite falling and breaking my ankle half way
through training and sustaining a fracture during the race itself. Beyond this, I’ve lost over 27kg, my
blood pressure and cholesterol numbers are back to normal, I’ve made hundreds of new friends and
raised money for charity.
What I’ve learned
Though the accident was truly terrifying, I’m actually glad it has happened. It’s taught me about being
resilient with a spirit that is difficult to break. Learning to chunk down seemingly impossible tasks to
work through them, and soliciting the support and advice of others have been key to my success.
Having the right attitude to simply get out there and give it your best shot, pick yourself up when you
fall, and not take yourself too seriously has helped also. I’ve taken this same strategy and applied it to
my work to help deliver some great outcomes. Understanding myself and what I’m capable of has
helped me in every facet of my life.
I still haven’t found my physical limits, so the plan now is to complete a half Ironman. I shall continue to
apply my learnings to my work, particularly focussing on helping and mentoring others to achieve their
You can support me in my efforts to raise funds for Prostate Cancer here: