The impossible made possible. – A Inspirational Short Story by Nancy Whitecross – Reedsy Prompts
A seed was planted that evening in May while I was working away from home. I received a phone call from Marc Kourie, an athlete my son had made friends with. He asked me if I would allow Rory, my intellectual and physically challenged son, to enter the Ironman Race with him. It was a complete surprise. Questions flashed through my mind: how? Why? What did it entail? I had only a few hours to decide as the entry had to be given the next day. The race was to be held in Durban and was only six weeks away. I quickly called Rory, who was elated and desperately wanted to accompany his friend to “ Batman”, as he did not wish Marc to do the race himself. I later discovered they had discussed possibly entering the race a few days prior.
I contemplated the idea with trepidation. What ifs were racing in my brain, and I could not concentrate on my work? What did this Ironman Race entail? First, a 1.9-kilometre swim in the sea, a 91.1-kilometre cycle ending the race with a 21.1-kilometre run. Wow, how could Rory do that? He had just learned to tandem cycle with Marc. Rory could swim, but not two kilometres. I called Marc back, asking the inevitable “What-if” and “How” questions. My mind racing and my stomach aching, I listened to Marc carefully. He had always planned to enter this race with a person of disability, his Uncle. However, that was not to be. He had often entered the race alone, but somehow, he was not fulfilling his need to help others. I asked how he was going to swim with Rory. He had been training in his swimming pool with a plastic container full of water and a harness. His idea was to put Rory in a small one-person blow-up boat and use the harness to pull him the whole way. This smelt of danger in the sea, and with Rory in a small boat, it was inconceivable. Then came the cycling. Rory had only travelled a few kilometres. How was he going to manage to cycle that far and run? Rory used a walker to walk. Marc advised me that he had received an offer from a friend that he could use a special wheelchair to push Rory for the 21.1-kilometre run. It was a dream, a beautiful idea. What was I to do? My boy, who had overcome so much in his thirty-four years, could be killed either in the sea or falling off the cycle.
I took a deep breath and said, “Yes, I will sign; you can do it.” Marc promised me faithfully that he would look after Rory and nothing untoward would happen. Rory had waited for my decision in anticipation. He was so happy and excited, while dread crept into my mind, had I signed his death warrant.
Marc organised training with Rory early at 4 am. This attempt had never been made before. The Race organisers were not prepared to change any rules; they had to adhere to the cut-off times for each discipline the same as the other competitors. They advised Marc to enter the sea last after all the other swimmers had started. This was impossible. How could this man reach the cutoff on time, pulling Rory in a boat? I didn’t realise how determined Marc was.
People began noticing that Rory had lost weight while building some muscles. I received a call from a woman who shall remain nameless, telling me that I was a lousy mother. Was I? Maybe she was right; Rory could get hurt, maybe even die. What was I thinking? I knew nothing about this kind of race. Marc once again reassured me that it would be fine on the day.
I was given a shopping list of items Rory would need: camelback holding water for the cycle race—special cycling boots, and gloves. What I didn’t know was that we needed an R10,000 entrance fee. Fortunately, two people came to our rescue and sponsored them. We were organised, or so I thought. James Temba, Rory’s best friend, had asked if he could assist me and was prepared to journey to Durban from Johannesburg, a mere six hundred kilometres. Our journey began.
I had no idea what I was getting into.
Upon arrival in Durban, I met the most beautiful people I had ever imagined: Marc’s family, his parents and his brother, who was a sports Doctor. Mum took control. I was speechless. People I had never met were helping Rory reach his dream. Because Rory had difficulty pronouncing Ironman and called it Batman, Marc had Tee shirts printed with the Batman logo and Go Marc Go Rory Team Batman. My emotions were running at an all-time high. It was time to test the boat. James and I helped Rory get into his wetsuit and carried him across the sand to the boat. A lifeguard had joined us and introduced himself as a friend of Marc’s, and he would be swimming alongside Marc in case he needed help. He would be on hand to help Marc carry Rory from the boat to the cycle, as according to the rules, we could not assist. They entered the sea, the small boat bopping up and down like a pea on a drum. The sea was rough. My heart sat in my mouth; this was just the practice; the race was the following day.
I didn’t think the practice run was successful, but I kept my thoughts to myself. Rory was excited and, above all else, happy. Then, I knew I had done the right thing. The expression on his face was enough. It is better to have tried and failed than to sit in a chair looking out the window, wondering why you didn’t try.
We had picked up our kits and met some officials. Rory and Marc stood proud as peacocks in their race shirts while photographers snapped away. It was a tearful moment, and now, as I write the story, a couple of tears ran gently down my cheeks, remembering how proud I felt. Marc’s Mum was in control. She advised me that she would sort out their bags for each principal. She was an expert at this; Marc’s and Rory’s needs were handled. Where did the day go? It was time to relax and eat pasta; Rory needed to carbo-load. I was tired. We ate and then went to our room to sleep as we had to wake up at 3.30 am.
I had not slept, and worry had taken over my soul. “What ifs” were racing through my mind; how could I live if Rory had to die?
We quickly dressed and motored down to the beach at the start of the race. Marc’s mum was there bright as a button and eagerly advised me that she had made small bite-sized peanut butter sandwiches, packed biltong and nuts for two athletes. I could only stand and stare at the hundreds of people lining up to swim. Marc and Rory were to enter the water last. The Kourie family hugged each other, said a prayer, and off they went. I watched Marc swim to the backbreaker line, observing the tiny boat bouncing up and down over each wave. Then, they became a blur. It was time to move on to where the cycles were parked. I was jumping up and down as I saw Marc and a lifeguard carry Rory to the tandem cycle; Rory smiling all the way. Marc quickly changed Rory, got himself changed, and off they went, riding in tandem for the 91.1-kilometre part of the race.
Well, that was that we had to wait; we were lucky they had overtaken half the swimmers and came out of the water in good time to start the cycle race. My hopes were high. I prayed they would be safe and finish in the allotted time.
We waited and hoped for news. Time was ticking slowly by, and no information. We were oblivious to the trouble they were having. Rory had not had enough training, and Marc, although he was an excellent athlete, battled on the uphill’s carrying Rory’s weight. Marc’s family advised me that Rory was in the medical tent.
Emotions ran high. I pulled back the tears, but not now; I told myself I had to be strong. Marc was outside the tent crying, which, of course, started me off; he kept saying sorry. Don’t worry. I told him it’s not your fault. Rory was the happiest I had ever seen him. I rushed inside the tent to find Rory happy but dehydrated, with his blood pressure through the roof. After talking to the doctor, I returned Rory in his wheelchair to Marc and his family. I then learned that Rory had injured his foot as a spoke of the cycle wheel came loose and penetrated him. He didn’t drink from his camelback as often as he needed to. Unfortunately, they missed the cut-off by two minutes, so they were eliminated. Marc told us that Rory never complained. He carried on regardless. They had formed a brotherly bond. The whole family were supportive and, of course, disappointed. However, Marc said Team Batman will be back next year to try again and walk through the finish line.
We took Rory back to the Hotel to bathe and rest. The next day, we drove home to Johannesburg. Rory did not speak a word during the six-hour drive. I was concerned and felt that the race had taken its toll on him, and maybe I should not have allowed him to enter.
Marc asked me to sign up again for the race the following year. I hesitated, but Rory wanted to do this so badly that he could not bear the thought of his friend doing the race alone. Once again, I signed. This time, the company I worked for sponsored the race by giving us the R10,000 entrance fee. Marc started training earlier, and Rory was fully committed to training with him. This time, we were prepared for what was to come. Once again, Marc’s mum came to the party, as did his brother, who was ready to swim alongside Marc for moral support and, of course, in case they needed his help.
Marc tried to convince me that this time, they would win. I was troubled. We attended the meeting the day before the race, and Rory spoke to everyone present, explaining his need to win the race. He even asked the organisers to take his photograph. Wining for Rory ment finishing the race so that he could receive his medal. We had booked into the same hotel and ate pasta the night before the race. I was still apprehensive, and although I had a better idea of what would happen, Sleep eluded me. I awoke the following day feeling tired, but I had Rory’s brother with me to lend a hand and support his brother. Marc was always confident and sure that he could finish the race with Rory beside him.
As before, a prayer was said before the boys entered the water, and with Marc’s brother swimming beside them, they overtook almost half of the field even though they started last. Once photographs had been taken and they were out of sight, we travelled to the cycle enclosure where Marc’s mum had placed food in their bags earlier that morning. We saw Rory being carried from the boat to the tandem cycle, laughing and beaming confidently. Once on the cycle, we travelled to the finish line. We were constantly looking at our watches, aware of the cutoff time. We had a good view of the cyclists riding downhill to cross the finish line. Where were they? We heard snippets of news that some people had fallen from their bikes and others had been taken to the medical tent. I wouldn’t give up. I knew they would cross that finish line as both had such determination. It was a distance of 91 kilometres. How Rory was going to do this was a miracle. I started to cry. They would not make it; the cutoff time was almost upon us. Then, my eldest son Peter saw them riding down the hill and into the finish line. Marc quickly got Rory off the cycle and into the wheelchair for the last section of the race, the 21.1-kilometre run. Marc’s mum ran alongside them for moral support. All I could do was hope and pray that they would finish. We moved to the stadium and tried to get close to the finish line. Excitement filled the air as the winners crossed the line to receive their medals. We waited patiently. Then we saw Marc running with the wheelchair. He stopped a few metres from the finish line, picked Rory up from the Wheelchair, and they walked across the finish line, two true Ironmen who had obeyed the rules.
Rory beamed as he received his medal, and Marc smiled, his body aching from bending, pushing Rory in the wheelchair. I cried and cried with joy. Determination carried them to achieve the impossible.
Photographers and journalists gathered around them, Rory telling his version of this magnificent story that he had to help his friend win, as he did not want his friend to do it alone.
We were invited to the winner’s enclosure for supper, where Marc and Rory, Team Batman, received a standing ovation. Marc and his family have remained our friends, and Marc will always share a special place in my heart as he made the impossible possible—an angel sent from Heaven.
Written by Nancy Whitecross, author and poet.