x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

How triathlete Bryan Rhodes' route at home forever changed

The Abu Dhabi International Triathlon competitor recalls how he watched on in horror from a Sydney hotel room as the route he regularly cycled in Christchurch was devastated by earthquake.

Bryan Rhodes will auction signed shirts to help raise money for the victims of the earthquake which devastated his home city of Christchurch, New Zealand.
Bryan Rhodes will auction signed shirts to help raise money for the victims of the earthquake which devastated his home city of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Bryan Rhodes watched in horror from a Sydney hotel room as the training route which he frequently uses to maintain his elite status as one of the world's leading triathletes was made to resemble a battlefield by the devastating earthquake that struck Christchurch last month.

Rhodes, 38, a native of the stricken city on New Zealand's South Island, swiftly came to the frightening conclusion that on most other days he could have been among the people who lost their lives in the disaster.

"When the quake hit, it would have been the time I was training, perhaps in the very place which was so badly affected," said Rhodes, as he completed his preparations for Saturday's second Abu Dhabi International Triathlon in which he is expecting to finish in the top 10.

"Something as close to you as that makes you stop to think," said Rhodes who was visiting Australia with his partner Christie Sym when the tragedy occurred. "It's such a popular route that I could well have been cycling there when it hit. The spine tingles at the mere thought of that.

"I will never forget the day. I couldn't take my eyes off the television and it was on all the time in Australia. The only day I can remember like that was September 11 [2001 when New York came under terrorist attack].

"I was sitting there feeling utterly helpless. I could see places in the city I knew really well which had just turned to rubble. I could see where we would go running and cycling all the time, trails I had gone along for years and, now, there are massive boulders blocking the path and even bigger holes in the road."

A neighbour of Rhodes was one of the fatalities and his brother's house was destroyed. "The population is only 500,000 so everyone knows somebody who has been killed," he said.

One of the world's leading "Ironmen" is therefore using the showpiece occasion in the UAE this weekend as a means of raising funds to help those affected and assist in the rebuilding of his country's second biggest city.

Competing in the gruelling, swimming, cycling and running event under the international charity banner of the Red Cross, Rhodes is hoping his rivals in the elite race and all the other supporting events rally round.

"I'm going to get the winners to sign their shirts and auction them at a later date," he said. "I will ask the other guys in my event to sign shirts for me and I'll raffle them. Every little bit helps right now.

"I just want to support anyone who has lost a family member in any way I can. There are so many people who have lost everything, be it loved ones or possessions. That city will never be the same again. It is such a historic and beautiful city as well.

"I'm told the rebuilding work won't begin until 2015 because that's how long it's going to take to get it cleared up."

Rhodes, who claimed the first of his four international Ironman titles in 2001, has outside hopes of capturing the US$50,000 (Dh183,650) first prize and emulating Spain's Eneko Llanos who won the Abu Dhabi event last year when he covered the 223 kilometres in a time of 6hrs 34mins and 37secs.

"I am in good shape," said the man who has won overall Ironman victories in Canada, the United Kingdom and Malaysia (twice).

"I would be very disappointed not to get a top-10 finish. I have been training since Christmas for this and it has gone well so I'm coming to Abu Dhabi with high hopes."

Despite having to push his ageing body through the pain barrier again in the three disciplines - a 3km swim off Abu Dhabi Corniche, a 200km bike ride which includes lapping Yas Marina Circuit and a 20km run - Rhodes is relishing the challenge.

"Last year was amazing," he said, despite a disappointing failure to complete the course. " For the first running of such a big event, the organisation was second to none. And cycling on that Formula One track is a dream."

England's Julie Dibens, 36, is seeking a repeat of her victory in the women's race which also carries a first prize of $50,000, while the fully subscribed 1,500-competitor event, presented by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, also features sprint and short course races for individuals and teams.