How do you honour your best friend of more than 30 years and someone instrumental in changing your life? Well, one way is to fulfil your promise to your mate and complete an IRONMAN, knowing you haven’t done enough training and that it is going to hurt like hell.
That is the plan of Cairns local, Dr Andrew Graham, who on Sunday 10 June will swim, ride and run in honour of his friend Greg Parr.
As an IRONMAN finisher and one of the country’s leading orthopaedic surgeons, with vast experience in the field of survival training, Andrew is fully aware that he hasn’t had the ideal preparation but he is comfortable with the fact that it is, what it is.
“I did the original triathlons in Queensland back in 1982 but gave it up for a long time. I was always wanting to do the IRONMAN because I had seen Hawaii on TV, so in 2012, I did the first my first IRONMAN with my mate Greg Parr, with whom I had done a lot of seven-day adventure races.”
“I had cracked out a pretty good swim and ride and I was in the tent feeling crap, completely nude with a towel over myself chatting to a volunteer. Then there was a voice behind me, ‘What the hell are you doing, get up you lazy bastard’. I knew who it was without turning around and I said ‘Greg, just leave me alone, all I want to do is sit her for half an hour’. The only way I was going to leave the tent was if he was prepared to hold hands and skip for the first km. Sure enough, this six feet two, high powered lawyer did it.”
Andrew said Greg had an awesome outlook on life that was simply infectious.
“He would always say, ‘What would you rather have, time or money?’ He always chose time. As a lawyer, he refused to work more than four days a week and always spent the fifth day training for triathlon with his wife. They were both passionate about it and he was such an inspiration for me.
“About six or seven years ago I was in private practice, had an ulcer and was burning up and going loopy. He was the one who convinced me to go back to the public hospital where I am now because I love teaching the young doctors and I hadn’t done it for fifteen years. He is the man who convinced me to do that and changed my life and IRONMAN has changed both our lives for the better. Then he goes and dies, the bastard,” he said with both a deep sadness and a laugh that acknowledged their closeness.
“Greg had a sore shoulder for a couple of years and I investigated it and found cancer in his lower lung. We did everything known to man, including having his lung resected and all sorts of stuff. At the start of the year I promised Greg I would do this year’s IRONMAN with him and we both knew in our heart of hearts that is was probably going to be his last one. Unfortunately, he died seven weeks ago.”
“His wife Sharmie is an absolute passionate IRONMAN supporter who has completed 25 IRONMANS and multiple Konas is too upset to do this race this year. I promised him, so I have to do it. So I am going to wear all his gear, his helmet and I expect to take at least half an hour in transition changing into his riding gear. Greg used to always run with a straw hat on, god knows why, so I have his hat and a lovely photo of him laminated which I will carry on the bike and on the run,” Andrew said.
Andrew’s preparation is unique at best. He has been away in France with his family taking his father to the WW1 sites where his grandfather fought and a week in Africa with his daughter who was doing a medical placement in Malawi in Africa.
“Unfortunately the most exercise that involved was me opening a beer at 12 o’clock every day in the back of a 4WD because clearly I wasn’t allowed to get out and run around with the lions. When I was in France I was with my dad who is pretty crook, so the only exercise I had was pushing him around in a wheelchair with him in tears most of the time, understanding what his father went through.”
“That was my program for five weeks but in the last ten days, I have upped it. My swimming program has consisted of buying a pair of goggles and the day before I bought a pair of togs. I have been a surf lifesaver for twenty years so hopefully, the muscle memory with come back. The running program has been two runs in Paris, where I got lost, and the cobblestones are so hard that I had to take a lot of beer and Panadol at night to ease the pain. I think that was the Lord telling me not to do any more running,” Andrew laughed.
A 58 year old hardcore mountain biker and with a part-time job as an outdoor guide working with a bunch of special forces soldiers who run an adventure company that specialises in extreme or survival type trips, Andrew is hoping his residual fitness, his love of his mate and the support of the Cairns community will be enough to get him across the line.
“I have to stay vaguely fit for those times when they drop us out into the middle of the Kimberleys and have ten days to get back, finding your own food and water. I joke about not training but through my speciality in wilderness medicine I know exactly what can happen, so a lot of my race will be trying to take things carefully and easily with food and drink.”
Andrew is very passionate about Cairns and the IRONMAN’s impact on the local community.
“Everyone really gets behind this race and the IRONMAN helps and inspires a lot of people. Putting these events on around the country improves the health of a lot of folks. It might only be two per cent but so many people after the race up here say that they were so inspired by the people in the IRONMAN that they have gone off walking, walking the dog, playing tennis or whatever. Mums and their kids are out there at 8 o’clock at night cheering people on and it is just lovely to be a part of that,” he said.