Motivated by a brush with death
Memory of a gun to Wian’s head is driving him on to win
● The robber — the most racist and edgy of the five assailants — pressed his gun against the back of Wian Sullwald’s head and cocked the weapon.
Sullwald, 24, knew he was going to die lying there tied up in the house on the family farm, yet in that instant he suddenly realised he had achieved only a fraction of what he was meant to.
“In that moment, making my peace, I felt ‘s***, I’m about to die now’ — and I’m quite all right with that — but I had one of the clearest feelings or visions, or whatever you want to call it, that I’ve ever had in my life; that I’ve probably done 5% of what I wanted to do.
“I haven’t done much of what I’m capable of,” said Sullwald, the 2012 world junior triathlon champion who was speaking after recently being named in the South African team for the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, in April.
His right hand was injured in the attack in early December, ruling him out of today’s Discovery World Cup in Cape Town.
Sullwald was about to go out for a late afternoon run with two triathlon friends at his dad’s farm in Bela Bela when two cars pulled up. One man, dressed relatively smartly with a Correctional Services hat and holding a big file, asked Sullwald if his dad was the pig farmer. “I was thinking it might be a land claim.
“The moment he said they’re looking for pig meat, I relaxed, and that’s when I felt two guns in my back, and the other three pulled guns on me as well.”
They forced Sullwald into the house where they tied him and his friends up with electrical cables.
“They constantly asked me where’s my dad, where’s my dad. They were definitely a hit squad hired to kill my dad. They probably asked me 15, 20 times, where’s my dad?”
Sullwald’s parents were about 20m away having coffee with his grandparents in an adjacent house.
“The moment the guns came out they were very agitated. I knew I had to keep them calm. I kept on pointing in a different direction when they asked where my parents were . . .
“I kept them calm, I cooperated, I kept on talking them through everything.
“There was one very radical one, kept saying a lot of racist stuff with regards to white people, constantly threatening to kill me and that’s when it got to the point where he cocked the gun and it was against my head and he kept on telling me to look down into the floor.”
Sullwald estimates the ordeal lasted five to 10 minutes, though it felt like forever, and ended when his uncle and aunt, who live in a second adjacent house, came out for a walk and saw some of the robbers carrying goods
I felt ‘s***, I’m about to die now’ — and I’m quite all right with that Wian Sullwald Triathlete I was training really hard just so I could sleep at night
Wian Sullwald Triathlete
into their vehicles.
The robbers fled in two vehicles, but Sullwald’s uncle and dad, unarmed, gave chase, and despite being shot at, managed to run one vehicle off the road and they arrested three of the attackers. Sullwald has gone for counselling as he tries to come to terms with the trauma. “The littlest thing pushes me overboard and pushes that aggression element up, or it goes the other way and I’m really sad.
“There’s the flashbacks and sleeplessness and that’s why I went through a period where I was training really hard just so I could sleep at night,” he said, but added that family and friends, including girlfriend Olivia, had been “awesome”.
He still remembers that moment of clarity as the gun was cocked against his head. “Of all the feelings and emotions going on, that was the biggest that I had.
“After the attack and getting back into training, the motivation and drive I have after that is immense — it’s a feeling I’ve never known before and I’m just driven beyond measure.
“It’s a big thing to say, but I’m going full gas [for Commonwealth] and I want to win a medal, however hard it may be. I’m going to give it my everything every single day.”
Wian Sullwald, a former world junior triathlon champion, wants to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games.