Neck on the line once again

Tim Don back racing after major injury almost ended his triathlon career

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Almost two years after a debilitating injury almost brought an end to his career, Briton Tim Don will take on the battle of the Ironman African Championships on Sunday.Racing in the Bay for the first time, Don, 41, looked back recently at the moment which almost ended his career in the sport prematurely.Having recorded the fastest ever time in an Ironman triathlon at the Florianopolis race in Brazil in May 2017, Don secured his spot at the world championships to take place in October that year.“Going to Brazil, I really went there with the intention of fighting for a podium finish.“I knew it was a fast course – the year before, Brent McMahon won, but missed the world record by 40 seconds.“I had no intention of breaking the world record. At 13km into the run, my team told me if I ran a 2 hour 48 minute, I would break the world record.“For me it was about executing a good swim, a good bike and a good run – the world record was the cherry on top for me,” he said.Having qualified for the Kona World Championships, Don was in his final preparations when he was hit by a truck while cycling.Scans later revealed that he had broken his neck, and despite several options available to help him treat his injury, the only one that would give him a chance of ever competing again was a “halo” brace (to prevent the neck and spine moving).“I fractured vertebra C2, which is also called a hangman fracture. The surgeon said I was very lucky – it was almost the perfect fracture because it just missed the spinal column.“But they were also worried about the tiny blood vessels that feed the brain because if there is a blood clot there, it damages the brain, so as much as I was unlucky, I was also very lucky,” the three-time Olympian said.“Similar to now, there are lots of athletes out on the course, and an Australian amateur triathlete who is also a doctor saw the accident.“He stopped immediately, isolated me, making them not move me or my head until we had a spinal board,” he said.The next four months would be trying times for the former ITU world champion and multiple Ironman podium finisher, testing his mental and physical toughness to the absolute limit.“There were times where I thought I would not race again, when I hadn’t slept properly for three or four weeks.“I had these screws in my head, my head was swelling up.“They had to be tightened, so they were just screwing titanium bolts into my skull.“But I was adamant, I wanted to end my career on my terms, not because of someone else’s carelessness,” Don said.It was in early 2018 that the brace finally came off. Don’s determination to get back to the sport was evident to see as just six months after the injury, he was back in the gym, hungry to rebuild himself and re-establish himself as an Ironman, with massive goals in sight.In May 2018, he took on his first big challenge when he completed the Boston Marathon, finishing the race in 2 hrs, 49 mins and 42 secs, only five minutes over his marathon split at his world-record setting Ironman race in Brazil.He was back on an elite Ironman starting line in July 2018, competing at the Ironman Hamburg, where he finished ninth, just outside the qualification positions for Kona.He then tried again, this time in Denmark, where he was forced to retire from the race. However, he managed to gain a spot at the 2018 Kona Championships where he came 53rd out of a field of almost 2,000 athletes, to complete a dream which had started more than a year earlier.“It was amazing – my wife was there. It is the first time she had been there with our daughter, so to have them on the finish line was incredible, and I really enjoyed it out there, as painful as it was,” he said.Don said the Bay was definitely living up to its reputation as one of the best Ironman host cities in the world.“The energy is so high here, this race has such a great reputation, and it is living up to that.“The field is amazing – you’ve got second and third from Kona, Andreas Dreitz whowas in the top 10 . . . it’s going to be hard from the gun.“There’s Josh [Amberger], you have some great cyclists and some awesome runners.“You can win it, but you can also finish eighth and still have an amazing race,” Don said.With ambitions of qualifying for the Kona world championships later this year, Don said a top-five finish would be an amazing achievement.

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