His swollen hands blistered and cracked, Andre Kajlich put his head down as he struggled to push himself the final few metres to the Ultraman Canada finish line Monday in Summerland.
Then, amid the loud cheers of fellow competitors, volunteers and spectators, the 35-year-old Seattle, Wash.,. man made history as the first para athlete ever to complete the gruelling, three-day, 500-kilometre route.
Looking skyward, Kajlich breathed a huge sigh of relief as the well wishers crowded around him and Steve Brown placed the coveted Ultraman Canada medal around his neck.
“It was awesome and today was unbelievably beautiful out there ,” said Kajlich as Penticton paramedic Chantel Reems checked his vital signs. “I really enjoyed the run, there were some tough spots of course but we’re here for the scenery and the challenge and both exceeded expectations. The reason I did it is because of what I’ve gained from other events and challenges that I’ve taken on and so I wanted to do the next hardest challenge and came across Ultraman Canada. It was an amazing event in a beautiful place.”
The double amputee, who lost both legs in a subway accident 11 years ago, did not use prosthetics in any of the other three disciplines, which began with the Skaha Lake swim followed by the cycling and double-marathon run.
“Before I started, I wasn’t quite sure that I could get through it but I definitely never thought about stopping,” he said, adding his only worry was making the bike cutoff time, which he did easily. “Next thing I do is see what I can talk my wife into letting me do next. It’s a challenge but I’m sure I’ll weasel anther one out of her.”
In the overall standings it was Kamloops’ Yvonne Timewell and Kevin Willis of Ottawa, Ont. finishing one and one in the women’s and men’s overall standings.
Timewell, 46, who has some very strong connections to Penticton (see Page 13) set a new women’s Canadian course record of 25 hours, 24 minutes, 32 seconds.
That eclipsed the 1999 time by Amber Montforte of 25:36:49.
“For the last 20 K I was running scared, I was mostly down, I had a hard time focussing but my crew they ran behind me and they kept me going,” said Timewell, who joked afterwards that she and her family are now heading to Disneyland. “I don’t remember what went through my mind when I crossed the finish line because I was crying so much.”
She also praised Jan Svendsen’s team for giving her some immodium early on in the run portion after she began experience severe stomach pains.
For his part, Willis, 54, killed the competition, checking in with a time of 23:32:07, just shy of an hour faster than runner up Jan Svendsen of Norway.
When asked whether he would compete in another Ultraman, Willis was somewhat non committal, replying: “Well, I guess it’s like when a woman gives birth, she says ‘never again’ but then…”