Lesvos fa­ther of two joins elite ath­letic league of Iron­men

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY ANTHI PAZIANOU

They say that be­hind ev­ery Iron­man there’s a story. That of Pana­gi­o­tis Dim­pampis from the eastern Aegean is­land of Lesvos is awe-in­spir­ing. The 40-yearold, a fa­ther of two teenagers, never thought that 10 years after painful back surgery to re­place two discs in his spine with ti­ta­nium im­plants he would join the elite group of peo­ple who can call them­selves Iron­men at the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship in Frank­furt, Ger­many, on July 9. An Iron­man Triathlon con­sists of a 3.86kilo­me­ter swim, a 180.25 km bi­cy­cle ride and a 42.16 km run, raced in that order and with­out a break in a time of no more than 15 hours. “I had suf­fered pain in my lower back since I was 18 years old,” says Dim­pampis, who owns a car re­pair shop in the is­land’s main town, Myti­lene. “My work is very phys­i­cal. The day be­fore New Year’s Eve of 2017, the pain started get­ting worse, un­til my left leg was com­pletely numb.” Dim­pampis was rushed to Athens, where he un­der­went surgery. His re­cov­ery took sev­eral months and he gained a lot of weight dur­ing that pe­riod. “Work and fam­ily obli­ga­tions had pre­vented me from do­ing things for my­self for so many years. So, after the surgery and the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pe­riod, I bought a bike and grad­u­ally started cy­cling longer dis­tances to lose weight.” Be­fore un­der­go­ing surgery at the age of 30, Dim­pampis had never been ath­letic. As he got more in­volved in sports, he met cy­clists St­ef­fen Stre­ich and Van­ge­lis Voul­gar­akis, who en­cour­aged him to take part in ran­don­neur­ing events (also called brevets or au­daxes) – gen­er­ally non-com­pet­i­tive rides where the fo­cus is per­sonal chal­lenges rather than rac­ing. On Au­gust 4, 2013, Dim­pampis trav­eled to the UK with Stre­ich for a 1,420-kilo­me­ter bike ride from Lon­don to Ed­in­burgh and back, which they ac­com­plished in 105 hours. “The joy and pride were in­de­scrib­able. Later, one af­ter­noon when I was home watch­ing TV, I saw a docu­men­tary with Dick and Rick Hoyt, a fa­ther and his par­a­lyzed son who run triathlons to­gether, and I wept. I told my­self right there and then that I wanted to com­plete a race like that one day, and that very same mo­ment, I put on my train­ers and went run­ning.” A day later, he reg­is­tered to par­tic­i­pate in the 2013 Athens Au­then­tic Marathon and man­aged to fin­ish in 5 hours and 12 min­utes, after just two months of train­ing. “The only thing left was to learn how to swim, which was tough,” he says, laugh­ing. He put on swim­ming gog­gles – “on an is­land with­out an in­door pub­lic swim­ming pool, so the sea is the only op­tion” – and learned to swim, un­der­go­ing a bap­tism by fire in the 2014 Spet­sathlon Triathlon and Bike Race. This was fol­lowed by his first Half Iron­man event in Pescara, Italy. He took a break to un­dergo knee surgery be­fore get­ting back into the game in 2015 for a “big, proper Iron­man” event in Aus­tria. Last Septem­ber, he par­tic­i­pated in the first Swim the Canal event at Corinth. “It was 6 kilo­me­ters of swim­ming. With a fa­vor­able cur­rent, I man­aged to do it in an hour and 2 min­utes.” His sec­ond Iron­man in Ger­many made him feel even stronger, “but from now on, I plan to get some rest be­tween triathlons.”

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