Fundraising Triathlon: Joy and Agony in 3 Stages
Anthony Ward takes deep breaths while standing on the shores of the English Channel at Dover in his wetsuit. It is October, 6.30am and the sun is rising slowly above the English coastline. His sports watch shows an air temperature of 10 degrees Celsius. “I trained in pools, lidos and in open water. At my peak, I was swimming six times a week for about two and a half hours each time, with one long weekly swim in excess of four hours. My longest open-water swim before the challenge was six hours, before I had to get out due to mild hypothermia. The training regime has prepared me well physically,” says Anthony, before wading into the cold, 15-degree water of the English Channel. He is about to embark on a 35.4-kilometre (22-mile) swim. It is the last stage of the TriHard Challenge, a very special kind of fundraising triathlon.
The first stage
Two days earlier, Anthony’s co-worker, Marcus Prosser, kicks off the TriHard Challenge. His part of the triathlon involves cycling from Dover to the university city of Oxford. “Everything is as good as it can be. I’m mentally ready to get this underway,” says Marcus before he starts. In addition to combining his training regime with his job, he faced a quite different challenge over recent months: “My first child was born in January, so I had to fit the training sessions in between looking after the baby. It was tough.” Marcus puts the finishing touches to his preparations before cycling off.
It is sunny, but very windy. Nevertheless, he literally flies along the first stretch through the hilly Kent landscape.
He reaches Buckingham Palace in London shortly after midnight. His muscles have started aching and he is struggling with the temperature drop: “The penultimate section, between three and five o’clock in the morning was the worst. The wind was icy cold, and then nearing Oxford it gets quite hilly. I was running out of both physical and mental strength,” he says after the finish.
Marcus regularly eats porridge to warm up while cycling. Giving up is not an option he is willing to consider. “I had a couple of guys from the factory riding with me for the last 20 miles and this gave me the push I needed. I owed them and the sponsors. I knew I was doing something for a good cause.” Marcus hopes that he can pass the hypothetical baton to Dominik Mitsch, the runner of the team, at approximately six o’clock in the morning.
The idea behind it
In December last year, the three co-workers had no idea how tough their TriHard Challenge would be. Back then, Wings for Life explained its work in a presentation. “After the lecture, we all agreed that we needed to do something special to raise funds for the foundation,” says Dominik, while recalling the moment when they decided to go ahead with the fundraising exercise. They firmed up their plans over a pint during their Christmas party at work. “We agreed to organise a triathlon. None of us is overly ‘sporty’, so we gave ourselves quite a mountain to climb,” explains Marcus. The three aspiring fundraisers made use of their large, global network of friends, colleagues and acquaintances to secure sponsorship. “We know a lot of people through work. We sent them emails, promoted our event on social media and told everyone about our challenge.” Nine months later, Marcus has completed his part. He actually ended up covering 281.6 kilometres (175 miles) from the English coast to the county of Oxfordshire in 16.5 hours. There, Dominik is already waiting in his running shoes.
Cramps and personal best
Dominik’s route extends over almost 60 kilometres (37 miles), from Oxford to Red Bull Racing’s factory in Milton Keynes. “I started training in May, but I was struck by injuries early on,” says Dominik, whose training had to go on hold for four weeks. “I guess I’m getting old, but I suppose it wouldn’t really be a challenge if it was easy,” he says. The Formula One team’s physiotherapist was a source of strength for Dominik during that time. On the day of the TriHard Challenge he is, at the least, well prepared mentally. He progresses well during the first few kilometres. Then leg cramps kick in.
“I am afraid that my legs will give way if I stop, but I’m in serious pain here,” he calls out to his colleagues, who take turns in accompanying him and cheering him on. He continues running and even manages to beat his personal best. “I never ran more than 18 miles during training,” he confesses. As he draws closer to Milton Keynes, Dominik feels a surge of competitiveness and increases his pace. After slightly more than six hours, he is greeted with applause as he runs onto the factory site and celebrates by diving in front of his colleagues. “I have pulled this off for the camaraderie, the good cause and the many sponsors,” he says breathlessly, but happily.
Fighting the cold
The next day, everyone turns their attention to crossing their fingers for Anthony. It remains unclear whether he can even go into the water until the last minute. “It all depends on the currents in the Channel. Since August, we have been forced to call off numerous attempts due to bad weather conditions. It’s tough when that happens, especially as you need to be mentally strong in terms of preparation,” the 38-year-old amateur swimmer explains, while warming up. Even today, his planned crossing of the Channel is hampered by strong currents. As an alternative, he has set his mind on swimming the 35.4 kilometres in the harbour basin of Dover. He shifts his goggles and swimming cap into the correct position, wades into the water, and begins to front crawl.
He pushes himself through the cold water for more than 10 hours. Every 60 minutes, he recharges his batteries with hot tea and gummy bears, without leaving the water. At this point, Anthony has started trembling all over. “It took an incredible amount of willpower to stay in the water as I was so cold,” he says later about his part in the TriHard Challenge. “I thought about my work and my upcoming wedding for the first four hours,” he says. “After that I literally could think of nothing else but the cold.”
He attempts to focus his thoughts on warm places. While he struggles with hypothermia in the open sea, his team keep a close eye on him with binoculars and calculate the distance. After 10 hours and 21 minutes in the water, Anthony has pulled off a sensational achievement. As he exits the water, he is welcomed by his exuberant team with a champagne shower.
Fundraising goal exceeded
The trio covered 374,9 kilometres (233 miles) over the three days of their challenge. However, they are even prouder of the fact that they raised more than 70,000 euros for Wings for Life. “I don’t think any of us expected to pull off something like this. That’s why we were able to inspire so many people,” says Dominik. Then he laughs as he reveals the secret of their success: “I suspect that many of our supporters wanted to see us suffer, and gladly paid to see just that happen.” Anthony agrees and adds: “It is great to pass on this money to something we believe in. I have the greatest respect for people with spinal cord injuries. I see them as mentally the strongest people out there. We collected sponsorship to ensure that the huge problems connected with spinal cord injuries can be solved at some point in the future.”
YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO A TRIATHLON...
Would you like to support a good cause with your own fundraising campaign? Launch your personal project for the Wings for Life World Run. There are no limits to your creativity. Funds raised go directly to spinal cord research. Have fun :-)