Ian Winson: A unique tale to tell

Steve Kilgallon on the run with "The Legend" marathon organisers Aaron Carter (Blue top) and Ian Winson (White top) in 2008.
LAWRENCE SMITH/ FAIRFAX NZ

Steve Kilgallon on the run with "The Legend" marathon organisers Aaron Carter (Blue top) and Ian Winson (White top) in 2008.

I was working as a sports journalist for the Sunday Star-Times in 2009 when I first met Ian Winson. Aaron Carter, an event organiser who was enthusiastically arranging trail-running events well before the trail boom, called up one day with an idea for a story about this enthusiastic guy putting on a race in honour of the great Arthur Lydiard.

We went for a run up the long slopes of Scenic Drive in the Waitakere Ranges, Aaron, myself and water engineer Ian Winson, who made up for his extra weight and years with gutsy determination. He told me about his race, The Legend, which followed the route of Lydiard's most famous training route.

Ian was a passionate competitor: a former provincial hockey player in South Africa, he'd turned to triathlon and distance running and was fiercely proud of completing Ironman.

Ian walks for the first time on prosthetic limbs in 2014.
SHANE WENZLICK/ PHOTOTEK.CO.NZ

Ian walks for the first time on prosthetic limbs in 2014.

Two years later, I wasn't rostered on the day a huge blast fired Ian Winson 70 metres up a concrete pipe and left him on the verge of death. I didn't know until I picked up my own paper the next morning and saw him on the front page. I remember calling Aaron, and interviewing Ian's sister-in-law Anne-Marie for a story the following week about the family's hopes for Ian's recovery.

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I first spoke to Ian again three months later, on the finish line of the seventh edition of The Legend, where he sat and told me, 'I thought long and hard about how I was going to approach rehabilitation, and it is a marathon; an ultra-marathon, maybe an ultra-ultra-marathon. I am faced with a lot of setbacks, but your mind can overcome them. Setbacks are only there if your mind allows them to be.'

He was a passionate sportsman, and continues to compete.
SUPPLIED

He was a passionate sportsman, and continues to compete.

I wanted the first proper interview with Ian. A year later, he was ready (and craftily timed it to plug another edition of The Legend). He was walking again, just, although he didn't yet realise the real battles to come. 'I say to people, "I have had a serious accident and I have lost a lot, but not as much as other people,"' he told me. 'There are a lot of people worse off than me. I have no right to complain.'

Two years on, I interviewed him again and watched Ian walk, effort edged on his face, 100 metres up a corridor in his new red prosthetic limbs. Multiple surgeries and a traumatic brain injury had kept getting in the way, but he was still trying. He rested in a bedroom near a noticeboard with a photocopied poem hanging on it. The poem was called 'A Good Day to Walk', and it began: 'Today, I would like to be able to walk on two legs again, just one more time.' He said to me: "As much as I would like to think I am an Ironman, I have come to realise . . ." His wife Katharine cut in, "He is, but in a totally different way".

We'd always talked about doing a book. I'm glad we did. Ian has a unique tale to tell, but there's some universal truths to be derived from the way he has faced the most gruelling of challenges and kept going. That first time we met, he talked about the values Lydiard had espoused – hard work, grit, determination - had inspired him. There's the same values and inspiration on offer in Ian's story of forging a new life after the most horrific of injuries, when the other option – a half-life slumped in an armchair, watching daytime television, offered a much easier path.

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 - Sunday Star Times

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