In Profile: Bill Chaffey, Australia
On this week’s paratriathlon feature we talk to Bill Chaffey from Australia. Having qualified for a long distance event, just five days before competition he was hit by a truck. This year he finished first at the Dextro Energy Triathlon - ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in the TRI 1 category for wheelchair athletes.
So Bill, what made you decide to compete in triathlon in the first place?
I started in triathlon in 2001 after having played all sorts of sports in my life. In 2004 I qualified for an Ironman, and on 29 March 2005 (five days before the race) I was hit from behind by a truck whilst training on the bike. I broke four vertebrae, suffered an open book pelvic fracture and two broken elbows. My left leg was paralyzed from the hip down. My right leg has about 90% strength with a lot of loss of feeling. After getting out of hospital I immediately wanted to get back to sport so I started swimming and then bought a racing wheelchair to take up marathons. The natural progression was to get a handcycle and return to triathlon. My first race back was the 2008 Gold Coast 70.3. I then went on to qualify for the ITU paratriathlon world championships.
What does your typical training week consist of?
I squeeze in as much as I can with a full time job and a family. For the world champs I was doing abut five hours a week on the bike (all on the windtrainer), two hours a week in the wheelchair and three hours a week with a swim squad.
Many triathletes use a training log. How meticulous are you in preparation for your training?
Very meticulous. I have been that way since I was competing as a triathlete before my injury. I too, keep a training log and I even record the times of every transition in my club races in order to see where I need to improve.
What adaptations have you had to make to accommodate your disability for triathlon?
Obviously I had to learn to swim using only one of my legs, to ride the bike using my arms and push the racing chair. The biggest challenge is finding places to train, I don’t go out on the road on my handcycle, and I just use bike tracks for the wheelchair.
Can you describe any special equipment that you use for triathlon?
I use a handcycle where I sit quite low to the ground and my legs are out the front parallel to the front wheel, which is the drive wheel. The gears are connected to the pedal cranks which I change, the same as a normal bike. There are two wheels behind the seat. I use a racing wheelchair for the run leg, this is where I can regain most of the time I tend to lose on the bike against the able bodied athletes.
What is the highlight of your involvement competing in triathlon so far?
The highlight so far is winning gold at the 2009 ITU Triathlon World Championships on the Gold Coast; but just being able to compete again is a highlight of its own!
What are your goals for this season?
This season I plan to compete in the Gold Coast 70.3 again and improve on my time from last year. I will also return to Mooloolaba (my favourite standard distance race) and again try to beat the previous time for that race. I will then do a couple of Challenge Series races as I plan to defend my world championship title in Budapest next year. My ultimate goal is to get the Ironman medal I was never able to get in 2005; but I would also love to compete at the Paralympic Games if the sport is introduced to the Paralympic Movement.
Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for individuals thinking about competing in paratriathlon?
I think that maybe the swim discourages many paraplegics from competing in triathlon. I can say that it is not as hard as you may think. Yes, I do have the advantage of being able to use one of my legs, but I believe anyone without the use of both their legs can still swim. This is evident by the number of paraplegic triathletes competing worldwide. I think the handcycle and racing chair are very manageable, and any paraplegic or person with other permanent injuries should give triathlon a go. It is the greatest sport in the world, and I need more competitors in Australia!