Where to start? At the very beginning I suppose 😊!
We met in 1992 and after three weeks decided that marriage sounded like a good plan (I know hey!!). Eight months later we got married and then in 1997, we decided it was time to start a family.
The day Nicholas was born (20 May 1998), the world changed completely for us. This was the day we found out that Nicholas has micropthalmia – simply speaking, he was only born with one eye! For any new parent, this was a daunting prognosis and for the next 6 months we worked through what needed doing in order to ensure that his eye socket developed properly. When he was 6 months old, he had an orbital expander inserted into his skull to ensure that this happened. He recovered well from the surgery but was still quite poorly. The surgeon recommended that we see a paediatrician to diagnose and treat what was holding his full recovery back. After spending an hour with a new paediatrician, she quickly identified that something was very wrong. After a whole host of tests, we were informed that he has a brain injury. After many tests and many different specialists (one told us to put Nicholas in a home and forget about him before we got too attached!!!), the diagnosis that was settled on was Athetoid Cerebral Palsy with Spasticity – any parents worst nightmare!!!
For 2 years, Nicholas was incredibly sick. We spend a lot of time in hospital with him. We then discovered a programme developed in America that we decided to put Nicholas on. It required at least 6 hours of therapy a day. Given the time requirement, it became evident that one of us had to take the responsibility on full time and Kevin took the challenge on together with the help of many supporters from our local church. For many years we continued with the programme until Nicholas went to school. That was a short-lived experience given the programme they thought was best for him (do one grade over a four year period!!!!). We assessed our options and settled on home-schooling, which Kevin managed together with all his weekly therapy sessions until we left South Africa in 2016.
Prior to Nicholas’ birth, we were very active from a health and exercise perspective but that soon changed when Nicholas was born and it stayed this way for many years. Kevin, who had hoped to do sport with Nicholas, soon “took on Nicholas’ disability”. In 2008, Kevin received a video from our pastor’s wife – Irene Robinson – about Team Hoyt – a father and son team in America taking on Ironman in Kona, Hawai. Kevin showed it to me and Nicholas and asked him if he would like to do triathlons. Nicholas was very enthusiastic and that is when TEAM GARWOOD was born.
At the beginning, we had nothing – no equipment whatsoever. No boat, no bike, no running shoes etc.. Kevin was carrying more weight than desirable and could not really swim. We soon found a buggy (WIKE) for Nicholas which we could use for the bike and run leg. Training soon started and Kevin quickly realised after doing one lap in the pool, that he may need some help in the swimming department. Our first event was the 702 Walk the Talk; our first bike ride was the Dome 2 Dome (a 40 km ride); our first duathlon was the Afriman (where the guys came last but received much applause from participants who had stopped their cars as they were leaving the venue to cheer them on) and our first sprint triathlon was the BSG Roodeplaat Sprint Triathlon.
In 2009 Kevin tackled Ironman 70.3 in East London, South Africa which was known for being one of the toughest 70.3’s in the world – we obviously did not realise this. They missed bike cut off by about an hour and a half and for anybody who is familiar with triathlon, if you miss cut off – your race is over!! We were not deterred however and decided that we would be back to try again. Little did we know that it would take another 3 attempts to eventually finish this particular race in 2013! Kevin and Nicholas received a resounding applause at the awards ceremony, and it will go down as being one of the most memorable races in our story!
Ironman 2012 which is a full distance triathlon (3.8 km swim, 180 km bike and 42.2 km run) will go down as being the hardest race the guys have ever done!! The weather was not looking good for the day at all with 80 km/hour winds predicted. We were informed by the Race Director that Nicholas would only be able to do the swim and run as the bike was anticipated to be too risky!! Little did we know how risky the swim would be!!! The swim was a 2-lap discipline in the ocean. The first lap was doable but by the time the second lap rolled around, the wind had picked up significantly. At the furthest point on the swim, it looked as if Kevin had decided to pull out of the race because the rescue boats started moving in towards them. Little did I know at the time that Nicholas had asked Kevin if he could do the run. To do the run, you need to finish the swim and the bike. Kevin then geared up for what was an epic swim. He finished with 6 minutes to spare and looked completely finished as he ran to transition to change for the bike leg. He only had the Hase bike (brilliant photo of Kevin on the bike without Nicholas in the Gallery) and with nothing short of pure determination and absolute love for Nicholas (little voice asking to do the run), Kevin made the bike with 9 minutes to spare. Nicholas was ready and Kevin then started the run. A short way in, it started raining…… just to add more drama to the day! We kitted Nicholas up and they eventually finished the race in 15 hours 3 minutes and 36 seconds! Inspiring many on the day! What a day!
In 2013, Kevin and Nicholas were back to do Ironman again, this time hoping to do all three disciplines together. The swim was so much better this year with Kevin doing a 1:15:20. They then hopped onto the bike and set off on the 180 km bike ride. Less than 1 km out of transition, Kevin heard that sound no-one wants to hear on a race like this - tube exploding! Yeah, you guessed it - our bike! Kevin stopped and had to take Nicholas off the bike to change the tube. A very kind American family kept Nicholas entertained while Kevin worked. Back on the bike again, they set off ..... again! On the second lap, you guessed it - a flat again! This time they were far away from the crowds but lucky enough to have the support of the on-course technical team. They set off - yet again! Despite the two flats, Kevin finished the bike leg in 8:23:46. The run went well and they finished the run in 5:05:17. Overall race time was 15:03:36! The crowd was absolutely fabulous all day long but particularly at the finish line. So memorable! At the awards dinner the following evening, both Kevin and Nicholas went on stage and received the loudest and longest standing ovation in the history of Ironman. What emotion! What was even more unexpected that evening, was when the Ironman Champion, Ronnie Schildknecht, presented Kevin and Nicholas with his winner's trophy! Nicholas literally held onto that trophy for a good two to three days - he was overwhelmed to have received it!
In 2014, Team Garwood spread its wings and we decided to do our first international long-distance triathlon. We settled on Challenge Vichy in France. What a brilliant race with Kevin doing a PB (14:34:34). In 2015, we were then invited to do Challenge Roth in Germany, which is the biggest triathlon in the world. What a brilliant day that was! Kevin did a cracker swim – 1 hour and 15 minutes. The bike was not a complete walk in the park but we will never forget Solar Berg – I happened to be in the crowd and when they started the ascent, they were cheered all the way up. It was so loud that Kevin could not see or hear me as I ran alongside him trying to get his attention! The run was awesome and they finally finished in just under 15 hours to unbelievable applause. The awards ceremony was fantastic with Kevin and Nicholas being awarded a trophy for their achievement.
2016 saw us leave the very sunny shores of South Africa for England. Nicholas struggled to adjust from a health perspective and was also homesick for at least the first year. Since being in England however, Nicholas has been re-diagnosed with Dystonia and since being on the right medication, he is in a much better place. He has also struggled with a subluxed hip which has definitely impacted his ability to sit through the longer races. We have however participated in quite a few of the short distance races such as the London Triathlon, Blenheim Palace Triathlon and the ITU Nottingham Triathlon in 2019. We have focused on finding a suitable pain management regime for his hip and now believe that we can resume our racing activities.
2020 is looking up and we are planning to do 20 events in 2020. We have decided to participate in the Global Marathon Challenge by participating in 12 Half Marathons in 12 months as a family……. yes even I will be participating!. We are then doing something completely different in July - we are taking Nicholas up Snowdon in Wales as part of a fund-raising event for MKSnap which is a facility that Nicholas attends two days a week. The remaining 7 events are yet to be decided but we are looking forward to getting back to what we love doing as a family!
Author: Cheryl Garwood