Mo­ti­vated by a brush with death

Mem­ory of a gun to Wian’s head is driv­ing him on to win

Sunday Times - - Sport | Athletics | Results - isaac­sond@sun­day­ By DAVID ISAAC­SON

● 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.”

Pic­ture: Gallo Im­ages

Wian Sull­wald, a former world ju­nior triathlon cham­pion, wants to win a medal at the Com­mon­wealth Games.

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