Abu Dhabi: A man who thought he would never run again after his left leg was amputated below the knee is now competing in triathlons in the UAE.
Luiz Pradines completed his first triathlon on February 17 at Abu Dhabi’s TriYAS and is gearing up to compete in the ITU World Triathlon in the capital this weekend.
“I do it [triathlon] because I can. When I had my accident…I don’t know why I didn’t lose both legs. I could have died that day. So I think I have a chance to continue living. I think I should do it, and I need to do it. I was offered a chance to do this, so why not?” Pradines said.
The 44-year-old Brazilian and a father of two, who has been living in Dubai for around 10 years, lost his lower leg in a freak accident while trying to board a moving train when he was 11 years old.
Although he continued to lead a normal life, Pradines admits that his way of life was not very healthy and did not involve sports, a lifestyle he decided to change in 2012.
“I thought the only sport that I could do in my condition was swimming, so I started swimming in the pool in my villa,” he said.
Pradines was so determined that he tied a rope to his waist to swim in a stationary position as he was unable to do laps in his small 12-metre pool.
In an effort to motivate himself to train seriously, Pradines set himself a target to cross the English Channel, a 35km swim between UK and France.
“When I told my wife, she said I was crazy and would not make it,” he recalled.
“I started to research it and realised it wasn’t something impossible. It wasn’t easy, but it was feasible. It needed a lot of preparation and a lot of training.”
An excited Pradines signed up for the 2015 English Channel swim, found a public pool he could use and started training intensely.
In 2013, Pradines met a fellow Brazilian, Joao Arteche, who coached endurance athletes at a specialised gym, Bespoke Ride, in Dubai’s Al Quoz area, and he started training with him.
“When I first met Luiz he was training... but he was lacking some important parts in the training,” said Arteche, who is now Pradines’ coach.
“The English Channel is considered the Everest of open water challenges,” Arteche explained, adding that it was essential to get the training right as the Channel swim is as demanding on the mind as it is on the body.
Arteche decided to introduce cycling into Pradines’ sessions to help build his leg strength and to take some of the pressure off his lengthy swimming sessions.
In July 2015, Pradines travelled to Dover, UK, to swim the English Channel. However, the extreme weather conditions saw him fall ill three hours into the swim and he had to be pulled out of the water.
A crushed Pradines returned to Dubai.
“I was very depressed when I came back to Dubai, I felt that I was defeated. At the same time I had to have the will to come back to the pool to start swimming again. I just knew I could make it,” he said.
Pradines worked even harder and in July 2016, he managed to book a last minute spot to swim the English Channel.
“I was so motivated. When I jumped in the water I knew that I could do it.”
After 15 hours and 54 minutes of swimming, Pradines made it to France, completing the challenge he had set four years earlier.
How the idea of triathlons was born
No sooner did Pradines return to Dubai after his English Channel feat that he started thinking about what to do next.
“Joao [Arteche] said to me, why don’t you try a triathlon. And I said come on! I cannot run,” Pradines said.
“He didn’t believe that he could do a triathlon. He was not very comfortable with the idea of starting to run. His whole life, he thought that he was never going to run again,” Arteche said.
Pradines, who was by this time cycling and swimming, began researching the topic. He finally came to the conclusion that if he got a specialised prosthetic leg, he could run and perhaps compete.
He found a clinic in Dubai and invested in a Dh45,000 prosthetic leg, a loan he is still paying off.
It took a few months for him to get used to running with a prosthetic leg, but with persistence and perseverance Pradines succeeded, even completing a 17km run in training.
“He is a great swimmer, he had the cycling, and it was just a question to be brave and sign up for a triathlon,” Arteche said.
Pradines trained around 18 hours a week while managing a full-time job and his family.
On February 17, Pradines competed in his first triathlon, without any special treatment. He competed in the Olympic category, which involves a 1.5km swim, 40km bike ride and 10km run.
Despite the agonising pain when he runs, Pradines feels it is all worth it.
“The feeling that you have when you cross the finish line is rewarding, I cannot put that feeling in words… it’s truly amazing,” he said.
Pradines will be competing in the ITU World Triathlon in Abu Dhabi on Saturday and just like his last competition, he has not asked for any special treatment, other than for someone to hand him his prosthetic leg when he gets out of the water.
“My condition creates some limitations, but I don’t want special treatment unless it’s something impossible,” Pradines said.
Pradines said is not ruling out the possibility of competing in a marathon or an Iron Man in the future.
“If you are dreaming about something you can do it, provided you have the motivation, you are organised and you do a lot of research. You have to do your homework and you have to be focused,” said Pradines.
“There will be some setbacks, but you have to keep going. You can do whatever you want, but you just have to be motivated,” he said.
Pradines experiences excruciating pain in his leg stump when he runs, which forces him to have to remove his prosthetic leg from time to time to relieve some of the pain. He also feels a lot of pain in his right leg at the end of the race, because it is the leg that does most of the work.
Getting in and out of water to swim and balancing himself while trying to breathe from the right side during the swim are also challenging, as feet are used to balance the body.
He loses valuable time when changing between his running and cycling prosthetics.
He is also unable to run with his bike, like other athletes, because he uses his walking prosthetic to cycle, which also costs him time.
What is a triathlon?
A triathlon is a multiple-stage competition involving the completion of three continuous disciplines swimming, cycling and running. The lengths of triathlons vary but there are four main distances:
Sprint: 0.8km swim, 24km cycling and 5km run.
Olympic: 1.5km swim, 40km cycling and 10km run.
Half Ironman: 1.9km swim, 90km cycling and 21km run.
Ironman: 3.9km swim, 180km cycling and a 42.2km marathon.