NO PAIN, NO GAIN!
MULTIPLE INJURIES DIDN’T DETER JAMES FROM COMPETING
Multiple injuries weren’t going to stop Ironman James
In the terrifying instant James Udy’s bike was shunted from behind and sent him sailing through the air, the veteran ironman knew it wasn’t a car that had struck him.
Just a third of the way into a 115km cycle-training run in February this year, the Warkworth triathlete had started powering up a hill north of Te Hana on State Highway 1 when the freak accident happened.
“It was just a thud and the next minute I was flying through the air,” he says about the accident, which saw him land on the road. “I couldn’t move my shoulder and I knew I had broken something.”
As James (47) looked up, he noticed a rogue spar swinging from a boat that was being towed on the back of a trailer. Fortunately, his state-of-the-art Pinarello racing bike took the brunt of the impact, but the force of the mast’s blow was so strong, his clip-on shoes were ripped from his feet.
As the athlete landed awkwardly on the rough aggregate, his shoulder and ribs snapped. James’ $7000 bike, which was snared by the mast, was now around 100m down the road. In the distance, he watched more calamity unfold as vehicles crashed while trying to avoid the untethered obstruction.
”It was all in slow motion, at slow speed,” he tells. “Two cars collided, then seconds after a motorcyclist saw the accident and slid off his bike.”
A motorist stopped to help the stricken cyclist and called emergency services.
“The injuries were quite bad but I wasn’t in too much pain,” says the triathlete. “I was only doing 20km/h up a hill so
I was going at low speed. The car towing the boat must have clipped me driving past and I caught a glimpse of the mast falling off the trailer.”
Taken along with the injured motorcyclist to Whangarei Hospital, James underwent CT scans and X-rays to determine the extent of his injuries.
Specialists confirmed he had four cracked ribs and a broken shoulder, but escaped any serious head or internal wounds.
With his injuries threatening to scupper plans to compete in the Taupo Ironman race the following month, James rested for a couple of weeks before getting back on his bike. He was determined to continue his quest to hold the highest number of finishes on track.
“I was advised doing the ironman would be too painful and not recommended, but
I was going for my 24th finish,” explains James.
With a replacement bike and on the back of a successful 2km test swim, he defied his specialist and headed to Taupo to “give it a crack”.
But the gruelling event proved too much, he admits. “I got 27km into the run and looked at my watch. I still had 15km to go and was getting slower and slower.”
Despite pushing his body, he knew after 14 hours racing he wouldn’t make the 17-hour cut-off limit. Withdrawing from the race, James gave up on closing in on the 33-race finish record he aims to hold in the next 10 years.
Now fully healed, he is preparing for next year’s race, though he hasn’t taken his new bike on the highway yet.
It’s the first major road smash the New Zealand Ironman Hall of Famer has been involved in throughout his 25 years in the sport. After a police investigation, charges against the driver were not laid.
James remembers being
captivated by the gruelling endurance races in his early twenties, wanting to make something of his life.
“I crossed the finish line and said I would never do one of these again,” he recalls, under the impression it was an experience he wouldn’t repeat.
Despite the declaration, he was training within six months and has been hooked ever since, even travelling overseas to compete in the famed Hawaiian Ironman in 2014.
“It’s not until you do the sport that you realise what you can do pushing yourself to the sporting challenge,” he explains.
“Not many people can get hit like I did, break bones and take on an Ironman like I did!”
Right: James’ mangled bike at the accident scene on State Highway 1. Far right: Exiting the swim at this year’s Ironman New Zealand. Below: Finishing in Hawaii 2014.