Gas blast victim Ian Winson is slowly recovering, Steve Kilgallon reports.
At the finish line of the marathon he founded, Ian Winson sits with his sons, handing out medals to every finisher and talking about how running taught him perserverance and determination.
He sees the months and years ahead as another race. The Watercare engineer and endurance-sport enthusiast survived the June explosion in a water pipeline that claimed the life of his colleague Philemon Guilland. He lost both legs and remains in full-time medical care.
"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."
Winson, who created the Lydiard Legend race which had its seventh edition in West Auckland yesterday, had both legs amputated above the knee following the June 4 blast.
He was kept in a "chemically induced state" for 12 days and wasn't lucid until the 17th day as surgeons conducted a series of operations. He knows he was "touch and go".
He remembers a little of the accident, but won't talk about it until investigations into its cause are complete, and he recalls even less of the days following. He knows that was the hardest time for wife Katherine.
"She saw me at my worst. I don't remember it: I woke up and I was clean and bolted back together, but she saw me that first day. I have no idea the emotions that went through her head. She has spoken to me about it, but the impact on her must have been enormous."
Now he's in an Auckland rehab unit learning to walk again – and yearning to be allowed home.
"I have questioned why this happened to me – but in the end, I can't question it, I've got to accept it," he says. "It's the old saying: shit happens. You just face the world and look forward.
"And people must not forget I didn't lose my life in this. A very close friend of mine [Guilland] did, and my positiveness is a lot to do with her.
"She will always be connected to me because of this and my positive attitude is because I know she wouldn't have wanted me to turn turtle – she wasn't that type of person."
Last Wednesday, he walked a few steps unaided on prosthetic limbs. It requires plenty of core strength, and he's been doing 160 sit-ups a time to prepare, training he says he's actually quite enjoying.
"It is getting easier every day," he says. "It's quite an emotional journey. But it is all about attitude. We will just adapt to doing things differently.
"This is a disability that doesn't mean your life comes to a grinding halt. I just have to do things differently."
His left arm, badly broken, should return to full strength and mobility; his right, which has three plates and 19 screws holding it together (surgeons originally planned to amputate) should reach 90%. Both need further operations. His left middle finger has gone – he refused a fixed replacement because he didn't want to be "giving the finger" every time he clenched his fist.
The family home is being adapted for a likely return next month, and Winson hopes to return to work for Watercare.
Most finishers stop to embrace him. The running community knows Ian Winson, the race is at capacity, and that's got plenty to do with showing respect to him and his recovery.
Winson has ambitions to resume his sporting career. He should be able to swim and cycle, and if he can walk, he can complete a triathlon. "And if I do get a broken leg, it won't take six weeks to fix: it will be two days in a shop."
* This story has been corrected to clarify that Ian Winson was injured in a water pipeline explosion, not an Auckland gas main explosion as first reported.
- Sunday Star Times
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