Life transformation a source of inspiration

ON A MISSION: Russell Watts will represent New Zealand as a para-athlete at the World Triathlon Championships.
ON A MISSION: Russell Watts will represent New Zealand as a para-athlete at the World Triathlon Championships.

Russell Watts could never have foreseen the difference a split second would have on his life.

But in December 2009 while taking part in a charity motorcycle rally that split second was all it took for the Taupo man's life to change forever.

Riding conditions had taken a turn for the worst and Watts entered a corner too fast, causing his bike to slide.

He slammed into the road, with his head and left shoulder bearing the brunt of the impact.

This left him with a traumatic brain injury and significant damage to the left side of his body.

He could no longer work at the job he loved as a chartered accountant, and a year on from the accident, shortly after finishing work, he was also diagnosed with MS.

"I went through a grieving process and [then I] made a decision I had to rise above what had happened and make the best of a bad circumstance."

Part of his rehab programme was doing aerobic exercise, so Watts got back into running. As he got fit enough he started to enter half marathons.

"Then that got boring so I thought: I'm going to buy a bike."

He said buying a bike was a big step as it was a lot of money and he was not even sure if he could ride it because of the balance issues from his brain injury.

He managed to get the hang of it again and then was encouraged by a friend to participate in a duathlon with the Manawatu Tri club.

"That scared me but I decided to go along.

"I knew I could run and bike but I have memory issues so I was worried I would forget what the course was and how many laps I did."

His wife Helena Watt said she used to go along with him and count his laps.

That year he won the club duathlon champs for his veteran age bracket competing against able-bodied participants.

It was then suggested he could compete as a para-athlete and, after contacting Tri NZ, he discovered he could be classified as a PT4.

His first event competing as a PT4 was in September last year at the National Duathlon Championship, which he won.

This qualified him to go to the World Duathlon Championship held in Spain where he claimed fourth place.

He also qualified for the World Triathlon Championship being held in Canada next month.

"I never envisioned any of this [but] now that this has happened this is something positive . . . it gives me something to focus on . . . this is me, this is my life and this is what I do. I want to get out to other people in the community, particularly those who are disabled and suffering . . . you just don't know what the future holds. You just have to focus on what you still have and see what opportunities come your way and make the most of your opportunities.

"It's all about you doing the best you can do."

Russell is doing just that, with his long-term goal being to qualify for Olympics in Rio 2016 as a para-triathlete.

The Watts family would like to thank the Taupo Medical Centre and Sports Waikato Taupo District Community Sport Fund for donations to help get Russell to Spain. Others interested can get in touch with the Watts family, at

Taupo Times