Kevin and Nikki Garwood were inspired by Dick and Rick Hoyt and they recently finished the spec-savers Ironman South Africa together. Nikki Garwood is the son of the South African couple Kevin and Cheryl Garwood, and he was was diagnosed with cerebral palsy after a traumatic premature birth.
Life changed for the Garwoods, but it did not stop.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time Kevin.
Kevin Garwood: It is a pleasure. Thank you for this opportunity.
ST: It has been a few weeks since you did Ironman South Africa. Is that all still well on your mind, and body?
Kevin: It was an amazing day and the effects of the day have worn off and we are back training again, however, the achievement of us completing Ironman South Africa together will be with us for a long time. This is our first Ironman that we have completed together. Last year we did the swim and the run but were not able to bike together because of hurricane force winds.
ST: That is really quite a long way from where you were 4 years ago. I think running a 10k on your own then was far from normal.
Kevin: It is a huge difference from 4 years ago. Although in my younger days I used to be quite active. After Nicholas was born even the little that I was doing stopped. So 4 years ago I was really out of shape. A 10k run would have been painful to say the least. Cheryl says that I am half the man that I used to be. She is referring to my size in that statement. I would say that I am a lot fitter now than I have been in most of my adult life and enjoying it. I really enjoy doing races with Nicholas and he enjoys racing with me just as much.
ST: I think your pastor showed you a clip about Dick and Rick Hoyt, and I think when you shared it with your wife Cheryl and then with your son Nicholas, he was completely smitten by that concept. Is that correct?
Kevin: It was my pastor’s wife who sent me the video. She thought that I would enjoy it because I was doing a home based therapy program with Nicholas at the time and doing his home schooling. When I watch the clip I was in tears, this was incredible devotion displayed by Dick with his son Rick. When we found out that Nicholas was brain injured and he was not able to walk and all my aspirations of being able to do sport with my son seemed impossible. After showing the video to Cheryl and Nicholas, I asked Nicholas if he would like to do this and he said yes. From this video I realized that there was a way to do sport together, just do it differently.
ST: Was that big pressure for you though? You teased your son, and now you really could not back out.
Kevin: I would say that there was a bit of pressure there. I had made a commitment to Nicholas that we would do this. The pressure was more in finding the right equipment because there is not much available in South Africa.
ST: How did those first couple of runs go? And as you just mentioned I figured that in addition to you trying to get in shape, gear was also an issue.
Kevin: Do we have to go back there? Those first runs I felt like a blob bouncing down the road and in no time out of breath, but I persevered and the result are showing now. It did however take a while before I got into reasonable shape. When I made the decision I had no equipment, not even a pair of running shoes. I took out a gym contract and went for my first swim. After swimming 1 length I thought to myself, 'Oh no Kevin, what have you got yourself into' because I was finished. I had made a commitment and I had to keep it. Getting gear for myself was alright, but finding equipment to do this was a problem. Thank goodness for the internet and Google. I found a bicycle trailer in Canada, the WIKE, which was the only bicycle trailer to be able to tow a larger special needs person. We then had to import this and I bought a mountain bike to tow it. From the video I was looking at an inflatable boat to tow Nikki in. I went to a place Canoe & Kayak looking for an inflatable craft and after speaking to Robbie Herreveld walked out thinking not inflatable. He suggested we look at a plastic kayak instead. He gave us the opportunity to try out several kayaks and help us choose the kayak that we are using. This has proven to be a great choice. Last year in horrendous sea condition it was stable. This year the speed in good water was once again proven despite the weight, we did a 1:15 Ironman swim.
ST: How patient or antsy was Nicholas through all of this?
Kevin: Nicholas is an amazing child. He was eager in anticipation of this becoming a reality; however he was really patient for me to get myself into better shape to be able to do this. I think I was the one who was more impatient than him. We got the WIKE just before his birthday in 2009 and when we put him in it and did our first ride his face just lit up.
ST: Was Cheryl at all worried about you two?
Kevin: A mother will always have concerns about her men and their safety. She knows that we are both quite competitive and Nikki want to win. The greatest concern for Cheryl is the swim and in particular the sea swims. For Ironman we do have people I close proximity on life saving craft to be close to us if something should happen.
ST: You just celebrated your 50th birthday and your son’s 15th. How did that all go?
Kevin: That is correct. It is actually quite amazing that our birthdays are 2 days apart from each other and we have a really great relationship as well. Nicholas was very excited to celebrate both our birthdays and we had an enjoyable day with friends. Cheryl, my wife took care of all the arrangements and presented us with a very special cake as well.
ST: The cake was a beautiful work of art. Did it survive the birthday?
Kevin: The cake was amazing! After Ironman, Nicholas said that he wanted an Ironman cake for his birthday. Cheryl arranged to have a cake made for us displaying us on the swim, bike and run. All were quite impressed by the cake. Not only did it look great but it also tasted great and was enjoyed by all. With it being a fairly large cake, it survived the day and so we still have plenty left.
ST: How far into these athletic Team Garwood endeavors did the Ironman idea come up?
Kevin: It was quite soon into us starting out. A friend came to me and said that we need to do the 70.3. I did not have a clue what a 70.3 was at that stage and Ironman was for crazy people. Although from watching the Hoyt’s video I would say that we were “Kona Inspired” from that. We attempted our first 70.3 about 6 months after starting out. The South African 70.3 has a real tough bike route and we were not ready for it. We also learned that the WIKE was like a parachute in the wind and then built our own trailer. We made every event a learning experience.
ST: Would Nicholas let you go out and do one event on your own, or is it now all Team or nothing?
Kevin: This is a question that is starting to come up quite a bit now. He allowed me to do Ironman SA 2010 on my own. This was a LSD trip for me, that is look, see, discover! Although it was a fun day for me, I went out and had fun, did not push myself to hard. Cheryl actually encouraged me to do this so that I could know what Ironman was really like. However, Nicholas is not keen to allow me to go out on my own. I can tell you that there is a huge difference doing it on your own and doing it with Nicholas. I have to be careful talking about upcoming event with him, because he wants to do the lot. He even wants us to do the Tour de France.
ST: At this year’s Ironman South Africa, race winner Ronnie Schildknecht handed his trophy to Nicholas and I believe that came as an utter surprise.
Kevin: That is correct. At the beginning of the awards ceremony we were called up onto the stage for being an inspirational family and on our achievement of completing our first Ironman together. After all the awards were handed out Ronnie came across to us and said that he would really like Nicholas to have his trophy. We were caught quite off guard by this incredible gesture. Nicholas was extremely excited and just kept hugging the trophy after that. Ronnie is a great guy, very humble and a true gentleman with a big heart.
ST: Where in the room of Nicholas is that trophy now?
Kevin: The trophy is in our front room with his medal draped around it, for everybody to see. He is so proud of it.
ST: Any plans for Team Garwood to compete outside of South Africa or is that too much of a logistical setup?
Kevin: The logistical side of our equipment is a bit of a concern, but we would like to go overseas to do events. I am currently in the process of having a new running chair built that will be a lot lighter than the chair that we are using, but that would be able to collapse to be easier to transport, all part of preparations to go overseas. I have spoken to Robbie and he will see if he can arrange for us to get a kayak similar to what we use in the USA. That way we would not need to bring the boat across with us, just the bike and the running chair. Part of our dream has been to go to Kona for the Ironman World Championships.
ST: Have you attempted to get into the Kona Inspired program?
Kevin: Our entry was not accepted because South Africa was not one of the official countries on the program. They were quite impressed with our video and said that South Africa would be included next year and we should submit again next year. This does give us more time to prepare for taking all our equipment on an overseas trip. We have to look at the positives out of the situation and we can look at planning for a trip to America to do a couple of races.
ST: What is next?
Kevin: We will also be looking to see if we are able to run the Comrades Marathon next year. It will be the 10th Ironman South Africa next year, so that is definitely on our list and then we will be exploring other event overseas. The 70.3 in Florida looks like a great one to do and then it would be great to take Nicholas to Disneyland. The Boston marathon would be great to do as well. At the moment it is very close to Ironman South Africa. We also have a number of local races planned.
ST: Is there anything we should know?
Kevin: Doing the triathlons has been really good for Nicholas and helped him develop. His determination to finish is amazing. This was really evident last year when we did Ironman South Africa. The sea conditions were really bad and I was concerned about him. He already knew that we would not be able to do the bike together. I stopped to see if he was alright and he said to me, “Dad, I want to do the run.” That meant I had to finish the swim and the bike within the cutoff times. With a picture of his face in my mind I was motivated to do this and we did cross the finish line. This year we did the whole race together. He really loves doing races and has become very competitive yet he has an amazing spirit and really attracts people along the way. He loves people.
We have also become involved with a Charity, The Chaeli Campaign and are looking to raise funds for them to purchase a building for an early development center for children with disabilities.
You can learn more about Team Garwood at http://www.teamgarwood.co.za