Inspiration, Motivation, Triathlon -

How I lost my leg and became an inspirational athlete

In 1999, I was 11 years old, and had just taken up sailing dinghy boats. After a successful sailing lesson with a lot of other children, it was tradition and mandatory to learn capsizing drills. In this drill you capsize the boat in order to learn how to flip it back around, in case you would need it for real someday. For me, this day would be a day of something entirely different.

Lying in the water after the boat was intentionally capsized, I notice the coach’s motorboat come near me, to give further instructions. As the boat approached me, I remember thinking the boat was coming close to me way too fast. The next thing I remember, I’m being dragged underneath the boat, and the engine is pulling my left leg through the propeller. In a moment of panic and fired by an adrenaline rush, I’m fighting to get my head above water. Somehow I manage to get flipped around to the back end of the boat, and find my left leg stuck and complete destroyed in the propeller.

This was the beginning of my journey as an amputee.

So… did the accident that cost me my leg, influence the person that I am today?

That’s a question I get very often when people hear about what I do and have achieved – the answer is YES, of course it did. The fact is I couldn’t imagine where I would be without that accident. I was 11 years old, and therefore I was able to shape myself around the fact that I didn’t have a left foot anymore. And the truth is, I rarely do anything despite of my “disability” anymore – I do them because of it. This year it will be 20 years since the accident, and I still think like that.

Growing up as a kid after the accident, I knew that there would be things I couldn’t do. But luckily for me I was only 11 years old, and kids don’t just sit around – so instead I was exploring all of the things that I was able do, at that time despite of it. Being active on my prosthesis taught me my boundaries and how to get back up, because I often went beyond those boundaries. I tried to master a lot of other things that other kids normally wouldn’t. I quickly found out that by doing so, I could do things that they couldn’t or didn’t even dare to do. It has made me a creative and fast learner. Because I learned that perseverance is key, I can go to another place mentally to learn a new skill that I have an interest for. Even the ones that don’t require my legs.

The way people look at me, unknowingly of what I can do, I use to my advantage. It’s the biggest motivation to be underestimated. It is that fear of being underestimated that drives me the most.

Through the years I have been doing competitive sports up against other athletes without disabilities, and I have always pushed myself to my limits in my effort to never be underestimated in my ability to do great things.

This has led me to the top of Kilimanjaro, through an Ironman Triathlon, a keen skier and snowboarder, and on to become a professional para-athlete and motivational speaker.

In my effort to keep up and deliver great athletic performances, I have been able to inspire many people to become active and do sports, or even reach goals that they thought were impossible for them.

Less than a year after the accident, I started sailing dinghy again, competing against able athletes for many years. 5 years ago I competed against other para-athletes for the first time, during a para-triathlon World Cup. I realized that this was my opportunity to really compare and test myself against the best athletes in the world.

Triathlon is a challenge in both training and racing like no other sport. It’s a constant battle to try to master all three disciplines. That is also why I find triathlon so exciting. It allows me to inspire people and to show them that I can do more than just walk or swim or bike or run, but actually do whatever I set my mind and heart to.

I have been inspired to inspire. And that is why I do it. I love to inspire people to do things that in some way move them out of their comfort zone. All of the attention I get from people, and all the fear of being underestimated, I use to inspire people. To show them that what they think in a certain way, is not necessarily the case. And hopefully people get inspired when they admit to have underestimated what is possible with the right attitude. 

Goal and the process:

My goal now is to reach and win a gold medal at the Paralympics triathlon in Tokyo 2020, and inspire people along the way.

Coming to Dubai with my wife has been the perfect opportunity for me to get close to the best of training conditions, facilities and the team that I surround myself with in the triathlon community here. Traveling around the world to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, using these opportunities will be a key role for me to succeed.

For everything to come together as a full time athlete, I value the help of my wife, coach and partners that makes sure I get the time and resources it takes to have everything done the right way. Out of training, recovery is key for my performance. The more I train, the more I need to recover. The stress that the body experiences during the week, takes a whole bunch of recovery and nutrition. And it’s kind of like a secret discipline, to which it only seems possible to master when you are privileged to be a full time athlete as myself.

My typical training week contains

  • 4 swim sessions (14km)
  • 3 Bike sessions (200km)
  • 4 run sessions (45km)
  • 2 strength and conditioning sessions (2 hrs)
  • 1 therapy session at DISC Dubai
  • 2-3 hrs of stretching and self-maintenance of the body

One of my biggest focus points in training is to strengthen my left side, on which I have my prosthesis. Even though I have very fancy and high-end prosthetic's, I tend to overcompensate with my good side. This keeps me both motivated and focused in training knowing that I can become so much better, just by balancing my body.

The prosthesis I use are different from each discipline. For running I have a cool carbon running blade that both makes me run faster and makes sure my body doesn’t overcompensate.

For biking I have a specially made prosthetic leg which has a cleat attached directly to it underneath, so that I won’t need a bike shoe. This saves weight and time in transition.

During swimming it is not allowed to wear any prosthesis in para-triathlon competitions, but I do have a prosthesis for water, which I use when I wake board, or when I occasionally go to the beach.

Sport, for me, has definitely been the one thing that has kept me going despite the ups and downs that life offers. Hopefully I can inspire people of the UAE, as well as people in the rest of the world, to get active and incorporate sport as a fixed routine in their everyday life.