Meeting the Two Oceans challenge

Richard Whitehead recently completed the Old Mutual Two Oceans (56 km) in a time of 6:13 minutes. The 29-year-old swimming teacher from Colwick, Nottingham in England, who was born with no legs below the knees, ran on prostheses.

Estienne Arndt, a runner from Johannesburg who lost a foot in a motorbike accident in 1988, started the race with Richard. He explains the difficulty involved in Richard's run. "When you run your toes help you get speed. Richard, however, has no toes and no knees, meaning he is running with his hips. The prostheses were sponsored by prosthetics company Ossur.

It was through Ossur that Richard first heard about the famous Two Oceans. "I was at a conference when I heard the South Africans talking about it. "I knew nothing about the race except that it was in South Africa. I entered anyway."

Estienne said they looked at a running time of around seven hours, but from the beginning he believed Richard could complete the run within the cut-off time.

Stunned


In fact Richard's finishing time stunned everyone. Said Nadia Arndt, Estienne's wife, who was at the finish line to greet Whitehead: "What an incredible kid. I just burst into tears when he came over the finish line. The crowd response was phenomenal; they went berserk."

Richard says crossing the finish line was electrical. But what really amazed him was the runners support. "When I had about 14 km left my energy levels were really low. From there on, every five to six km, a runner would run with me, keeping me going, something I have never experienced before.

Richard has run a number of marathons, including the New York marathon, which he has won. "I got into running when I decided to run the New York marathon to raise funds for cancer. The motivation was a friend of mine who had lung cancer.

However, sports have been a part of life since an early age. "I went to a boy's only school and did gymnastics. After that I started swimming."

Apart from swimming and gymnastics, Richard also captained Nottingham's disabled cricket team and was chosen to represent England. He represented Britain at the Winter Paralympics in Turin, Italy, taking part in the sledge hockey discipline.

Goals


"I am always looking for challenges. I set myself individual goals and then push myself to see where I can get to. Right now I am eying the Comrades Marathon. However, this would be in the future. First I will go home, keep training and see what comes round."

So how does he do it? "It is all about goal setting. You need to challenge yourself to improve yourself. I start with small goals, achieve them and then aim for slightly bigger goals and so on. Persistence is important.

"Generally it is also about ability, not disability. Unfortunately, disability means you are judged first on how you look. This means you have to prove yourself. Most people were probably thinking, "How the hell is he going to make 56 km?" But after I made it round the mountain the respect was there. Sometimes you have to show what you can do.

"Don't think that the ones who do it are special. I don't think I am special. Although I do hope that I inspire able bodied and disabled people alike to do something positive with their lives. That is special. So I say just get out there and do it."

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