x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

How did triathlete get injured?

As Mark Pringle clings to life after a suspected hit and run, his wife appeals for witnesses to come forward.

Mark Pringle, the Australian triathlete, is battling for life at Mafraq Hospital.
Mark Pringle, the Australian triathlete, is battling for life at Mafraq Hospital.

ABU DHABI // The wife of a champion triathlete left on life support after a suspected hit-and-run accident last month pleaded yesterday for witnesses to come forward to help her find out what happened to her husband. Jennifer Pringle, 45, has been keeping a bedside vigil at Mafraq Hospital for her husband, Mark, who won 33 races over a decade-long career, including the Australian title.

Mr Pringle, 50, suffered serious head injuries while riding at the rear of a group of bicyclists during a training ride early on the morning of July 24 and was put into a medically induced coma. Because Mr Pringle had been at the rear of the group, none of his companions knew that something had gone wrong until a passing motorist alerted riders. "I know he's going to die, and I need to help him. I need to find out what happened," Mrs Pringle said.

"His motto was 'train safe', so I know he'd never cycle and take risks," she said. "I never worried about him, because I know he'd never put himself or his friends in any danger." Mr Pringle was following his Friday morning routine of getting up at five and riding for three hours with friends, then returning home for breakfast. Mrs Pringle, a teacher at Raha International School, sits with her husband every day, telling him about his condition, his business Tri Middle East, his well-wishers, and reassuring him that she is still by his side.

"I love him and just want to do what I can to find out what happened. I need to find him the answers." Mr Pringle was the swimming director for the Australian triathlon team at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, and he had quickly become a prominent part of life in the community at Al Raha School, where he was swimming coach. "He loved it here," Mrs Pringle said. "His work was pleasure for him, and he'd get up at 4am every day and be working until 9.30 in the evening."

The children and parents at the school, as well as Mr Pringle's clients, have sent cards and good wishes to Mrs Pringle, who said she has seen the man she called "superman" deteriorate beyond recognition. Four days after he was injured, he began to wake up, and Mrs Jennifer Pringle felt hope for him. He regained some movement and even managed to grip her hand. When he was admitted, doctors were not hopeful that he would survive 24 hours, but he has survived because of what Mrs Pringle calls his "fighting instinct".

"The doctors liken him to Steve Irwin," she said, referring to the Australian wildlife expert and conservationist who was renowned for grappling with crocodiles. "He's so strong, and they can see that. They can't believe what a fighter he is." Her hopes were quickly shattered, however, when, soon after showing hopeful signs, Mr Pringle experienced severe neurological complications. He was rushed to surgery on July 30 with only a slender of chance of survival, Mrs Pringle said, but pulled through.

"The doctors at Mafraq have been amazing," she said. "I've had so much support from them and the school. It's been overwhelming." Authorities have not been able to confirm whether Mr Pringle was hit by a vehicle, but a member of the group with which Mr Pringle had been riding said his injuries appeared more serious than would be expected from an ordinary fall from a bicycle. The friend, who did not wish to be named, said there were normally just a few cars on the road when the group rode in the hours before dawn.

Mr Pringle moved to the UAE last year to coach swimming at the Raha International School. Since his arrival in the capital, he has also become a prominent figure on the UAE triathlon scene, regularly coaching and training with Abu Dhabi and Dubai clubs. He was planning to launch a junior triathlon club at the school in September, aiming to encourage more youngsters to take up the sport. "He wanted to show people that the [hot] climate doesn't mean you can't train," Mrs Pringle said. "All our sightseeing and trips were time spent looking for places to train, like the mountains in Hatta, which he said were great for cycling."

Mr Pringle took part in his first triathlon in 1981 and he competed professionally until 1993. In a recent interview with The National, Mr Pringle spoke of his desire to build awareness for the sport in the UAE. "Triathlon wasn't really on the agenda: they focus on swimming here. If I can push it from my end and the youngsters can push themselves, people will take notice," he said at a launch for the Team Abu Dhabi Triathlon squad at the beginning of July.

"All these guys can run, so the next thing is the bike and then the swimming," he added. "I think everyone can relate to each of those. No matter who you are, you can relate to riding a bike, running and swimming in some sort of fashion. "My focus will be in multisport events, and especially getting the Emirati kids up to speed and on to the world stage in triathlon. We already have kids who are willing to give it a go and have shown ability, which is great."

Mr Pringle also set up Tri Middle East, a triathlon coaching group based in Abu Dhabi. mswan@thenational.ae