Wednesday, January 13, 2010
"MAD MAX" Ironman Lanzarote Special Athlete Champion
In Lanzarote Herremans set a new wheelchair division course record with his 14:03 clocking, besting the old record set by Randy “The animal” Cadell by almost three hours.
For Herremans the race was not only a special physical challenge, but a very personal one. Four years ago he broke his back while riding down Mount Haria in Lanzarote.
“As I passed the location of my accident in training, it was every time pretty emotional for me. But in the race I was so tired and suffering, that I didn’t think about the accident. I just focused on the Ironman and was happy that I’m in the race.”
Hand cycling up the steep hills, it looked like Herremans’ arms were moving in slow motion and his veins seemed almost to explode out of his biceps that would make Popeye jealous.
According to some spectators Herremans looked like he was in agony while going up the hills.
“Maybe I felt a little like that,” Herremans laughs. “But my face looks always much worse than I feel. You know, for me it’s actually easy; because the hardest part of my life was four years ago. The wind and the hills where hard, but breaking my back was harder!”
Triathlon is the only sport, where disabled athletes race together, in the same event, on the same course and under the same rules as able-bodied athletes
“I left a lot of goals in Lanzarote four years ago. I lost my last life in Lanzarote, and I got a new life in Lanzarote. But my thoughts about the island are now about the Ironman and not about the accident anymore. You know, I could have fell on my head and be dead, but I still can do the Ironman.”
Herremans' positive spirit and his ability to focus on the bright side of life is amazing. As focussed and competitive as he looks during a race, he has a gentle voice and his sensitive and affectionate side becomes obvious when he tells you about his family and his dog or how tears roll over his cheek when he watches his favourite movie “Million Dollar Baby”.
The accident which left Herremans paralysed from the chest down happened just after his impressive sixth place debut at the Ford Ironman World Championship. It happened, on a training ride in Lanzarote. “I was pretty tired while riding down mount Haria. For a second I was not concentrating and didn’t make a turn. I fell off the road and hit with my back a rock.”
It took him only four days before he started to train with weights in the hospital bed, and eight months later he was at the starting line in Hawaii as a wheelchair athlete. “I never had moments after the accident, where I didn’t want to live anymore. Life is too short; you have to move on.
“Talking with Christopher Reeve was a very good experience for me. It gave me the power to look down. I thought, he only can use his head and I still have my arms. You know, it’s all about the way you’re thinking and it’s up to you how you want to think. It’s up to you if you want to look up or down. A lot a people are much worse than me. I try to look at the things I still can do and not at the things I can’t.”
For his preparation, Herremans spent several weeks on Lanzarote with his buddies Dirk Van Gossum and Ironman record holder Luc Van Lierde. Van Gossum, the winner of Ironman Lanzarote in 2000, has been a training partner for several years, and was with Herremans when his accident happened. Van Lierde trained with the two over the winter, and said that helped him find the motivation for Ironman racing again, which showed when he finished sixth at Ironman Lanzarote.
Herremans’ training schedule is pretty much the same as Van Lierde’s.
“Life’s only limitations are the ones we make – its all in the mind and nothing is impossible!”