JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A South African man who was impaled on a crowbar in a 2015 mining accident has qualified to run in the Comrades ultramarathon on Sunday.
Daniel de Wet lost a kidney and suffered other internal injuries when the 1.8-meter (5.9-foot) metal rod entered his groin area and exited his back just below a shoulder blade.
The 37-year-old said he was “given a second chance” in life and he looks forward to the 89-kilometer (55-mile) Comrades run between the South African cities of Pietermaritzburg and Durban. He ran in the ultramarathon six times before the accident.
“I’m very positive. I’m a little bit nervous,” de Wet said in an interview with The Associated Press. He acknowledged “that small, small hesitation of thinking: ‘Am I going to make it or not?'”
De Wet, who started training last year, completed a marathon last month in four hours and 50 minutes, just under the qualifying time of five hours needed to enter Comrades. He has set himself an ultramarathon goal of 10 hours and 54 minutes, his time when he first ran it. The Comrades cut-off time is 12 hours.
He said he doesn’t want to “overwork my one kidney” and will be careful not to drink too much at water stations, while making sure he stays hydrated. A fellow runner will “take me through to the end” and the support of his wife and three children has been invaluable, said de Wet, an engineering supervisor with the Sibanye-Stillwater mining company.
De Wet’s horrific accident occurred in January 2015 when he slipped onto the crowbar in a mine in Carletonville, a gold-mining area near Johannesburg. He was conscious and sitting awkwardly on a stretcher with the crowbar in his torso as rescuers took him to the surface, where he was airlifted to a hospital. Trauma surgeons removed the crowbar and de Wet was discharged 19 days later.
De Wet’s ordeal and return to running symbolize what the ultramarathon is about — “the power of the human spirit,” said Cheryl Winn, chair of the Comrades Marathon Association.
“It’s incredible what people can actually achieve if they put their minds and their bodies down to it,” said Winn, who won Comrades in 1982 and described the run as “absolutely tortuous.”
People with cystic fibrosis have run the ultramarathon and the thousands of competitors this year include a man in a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis, according to Winn.
Past runners include Carl Peatfield, who suffered brain damage after a cyanide poisoning accident at his workplace and ran in the 2002 ultramarathon in a kind of harness supported by four friends. Sam Tshabalala, who in 1989 became the first black person to win Comrades when South Africa was still under white minority rule, was injured in a car accident in 1991 but won several silver medals in subsequent years.
The first Comrades was held in 1921 with only three dozen participants and commemorated South African soldiers who died in World War I. Today, race organizers allow a maximum of 20,000 runners. Black runners were officially barred from participating until 1975, the height of the apartheid era.
Comrades runners are subjected to “some of the most brutal terrain” in any marathon or ultramarathon in the world, South African Bruce Fordyce, who won Comrades a record nine times, wrote in a blog post.
For de Wet, Sunday’s run will be a gift, whatever happens.
“We are taking life for granted,” he said. “You realize, to be healthy is actually a very, very important thing.”
Follow Christopher Torchia on Twitter at www.twitter.com/torchiachris