We’re Inspired By – Bohdan Dawyd
Illness nearly floored Bohdan Dawyd, but his martial arts past helped him get up and go.
Bohdan’s bike was a wreck after his crash but his body scraped through
As he dragged himself up off the roadside in Carlisle last May and assessed the injuries that spread from his ankles to the tips of his fingers, via a damaged spine, Bohdan Dawyd could have been forgiven for taking the hint and accepting that being hit by a car spelled the end of his second attempt to cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats. But in the context of what the 24-year-old from Nottingham had been through the previous year, when he had spent three months unable to walk and periodically in agony thanks to an attack of reactive arthritis, a prang was not going to stop him.
“I thought ‘This is pretty rubbish’,” says Bohdan, with characteristic understatement, “but that it would be good if I could finish it off even after being hit by a car and with everything that had happened the year before. It just motivated me. The morning after I was hit I felt terrible. I had soft tissue damage to my Achilles and my spine, nerve damage to my right wrist and problems with the joints in my fingers.
“But my team had a spare bike, although it was a bit too small for me. So, because I’d already done about 500 miles, I thought ‘I can’t be bothered to do it again next year – I’d rather do it on a smaller bike in pain’. Being hit by a car just motivated me to get it done against the odds.” The team finished the 900-odd miles in four and a half days.
The first time Bohdan and his team-mates from No Limits Triathlon and Running Club had tried to cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats was in May 2011 and day three of the planned five-day ride proved fateful that time, too, with the attempt being abandoned near Dumfries thanks to high winds.
The disappointment of failing to complete the ride was forgotten when food poisoning laid Bohdan low for a few days the following week. Initially, it appeared to have been no worse than any other bout of vomiting and diarrhoea but its implications soon became more serious. “About a week later I woke up one morning and my left knee was huge,” says Bohdan. “It happened overnight. I initially thought it must be an injury from all the long-distance cycling but I went to the doctor and he diagnosed it as reactive arthritis from the food poisoning. I’d never even heard of it before.
“Within a few days it started to affect my other joints including my wrists, knuckles and ankles and within a couple of weeks I was bedridden. Eventually I was in hospital having my knee drained but I’d been put on medication – non-steroidal anti-inflammatories – before that to try to dampen it down but it wasn’t working.”
Bohdan’s experiences spurred him on to new challenges – now he just wants to race
Bohdan had been doing Wing Chun Kung Fu since he was eight years old and began competing in half-marathons in 2009, soon moving on to triathlons, so there was never any doubting his fighting spirit. But spending three months, from June to September 2011, bedridden with a condition more often associated with old age than with a phenomenally fit man in his early 20s, tested his self-belief to the limit. “I’m very active so it was like my whole world just fell apart,” he says. “I had to ask myself if I wanted to be active again. It was heartbreaking. There was one morning when the pain was particularly horrific, so bad I wouldn’t have been bothered if I had died. I had fluid building on my neck and was admitted to hospital. On the ward the rheumatologist told me to forget doing anything physical for at least two years, and I would have to count myself lucky if I ever returned to triathlon.”
A theme Bohdan returns to time and again when discussing the setbacks and miserable luck he has suffered is that of motivation, and he used this to turn his lowest point to his advantage. “I was on the hospital ward and I thought ‘I’ve just got to get out of here’. It was being on the rheumatology ward with old people and sick people. I didn’t want to accept it because I’m a young man and I love training. That was when I decided to do whatever it takes to get back into racing.”
A change of drugs in September 2011 proved the first step towards the recovery that would eventually see Bohdan complete Land’s End to John O’Groats, a long-distance triathlon, the Three Peaks Challenge and a Nottingham to Monaco cycle ride all within three months last summer, in a year in which he took part in 14 events in total. “They put me on a high dose of oral steroids and within hours the swelling had gone,” he explains. “It was amazing. I was on the steroids until the Sulfasalazine kicked in, which took a couple of weeks.”
After months of steroid injections and joint draining, the relief at a treatment that seemed to be working so well was immense, even if Bohdan was initially told he would be on the Sulfasalazine, an anti-rheumatic drug, for life. His plans soon moved beyond simple recovery: “When the steroids started working, there was always a thought in the back of my mind that I could return to racing, and that was a big motivator.”
The first step, though, was intensive physio just to begin walking again after the muscle wastage that three months of immobility brings. “I was only doing very short distances, but then I soon started running short distances as well,” he says. “It was a matter of starting right at the beginning and getting back up there. I’d lost about a stone in weight and I had no fitness. I was focused on getting active again. Doing Wing Chun had instilled the fighting spirit. It’s all about not going down without a fight and never giving up. I was motivated as soon as I started training – it was like a hunger.”
With his arthritis under control thanks to the medication, Bohdan’s back in training
His doctors backed his decision to train. “My rheumatologist said that as long as there was no pain when I was training, he had no problem with me being active again,” he says. So within eight months of lying in bed wondering whether he would ever walk again, let alone swim, bike and run, Bohdan was lying on the roadside in Carlisle having been hit by that car on the third day of his second attempt to ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Having dusted himself down and completed that challenge, he enjoyed a three-week rest before the long-distance Outlaw triathlon in Nottingham, completing it in an impressive 11 hours 53 minutes 18 seconds. “I’ve never really been that good at swimming so I put a lot of hours into the pool early on. I did the swim in about 1:15, which is not great, but I knew that if I could get out of the water fresh there would be a chance of finishing it off. I was delighted to finish it.”
After that, the Three Peaks Challenge was a comparative doddle – “but still very draining; the lack of sleep was the hardest part”. Then, finally, came the gentle cycle from Nottingham to Monaco, in aid of the armed forces charity Help for Heroes. “A friend’s son was killed in action,” Bohdan explains. “So the ride was dedicated to his memory. The reason we chose Monaco was to cycle through France and the Alps with the beautiful scenery.”
Quite why someone would choose to have such a challenging few months so soon after suffering a debilitating illness may seem curious at first, but it goes back to that theme of motivation Bohdan draws on time and again – what many would see as setbacks, he sees as reasons to push ever harder. “What happened to me in 2011 was a big motivator for what I did in 2012,” he explains, “but now it’s just a case of getting on with it and enjoying it.
“I still have to take four tablets a day but I have no symptoms from the arthritis. I’ll be on the medication for another year, then hopefully I’ll remain free of it. I’ve got 18 events planned for 2013 – mainly sprint and Olympic-distance duathlons and triathlons. No Ironman, though. Maybe when I have a midlife crisis I’ll go back to that.”
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on Sunday, February 17th, 2013 at 5:30 am under Latest Issue, Magazine.
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Tags: Inspired, Triathlon Plus Magazine