Back in 2008, Chris and Denise Arthey were on a motorcycle trip across the USA. It was while exploring South Texas that a life-changing accident would occur.
A drunk driver veered into the wrong side of the road at 80mph, colliding with Chris and Denise almost head-on. They suffered multiple injuries and Chris was in a coma for days, having suffered internal injuries and severe concussion. Ultimately lost their left legs above the knee, and a long and painful recovery process began.
Chris and Denise on the day before the accident that would claim both their left legs
After a long and painful recovery, they were both able to resume the work they love. They both enjoy physical fitness, and Chris has completed many endurance events. Using prosthetic legs he has run a marathon, competed in triathlons at Olympic distance, and climbed Kilimanjaro. Here Chris talks us through his race at the London Tri back in August...
Perched alone on the pontoon in my wetsuit, I’ve been helped down here on my one leg while the others in the 6:30am wave finish their race briefing. The race officials have been brilliant; they recognised me as soon as I arrived at chip pick-up on my peg-leg. I’m the only para-athlete in this Olympic-distance wave and they’ve made me feel very special! I even have a powder-blue swim cap to distinguish me from the rest of the wave in their fetching pink caps.
But the water looks sullen, and the turn buoys are so far away towards Connaught Bridge. I slide off the dock and the cold water slaps shut over my head before I surface, the familiar shiver of water wicking through the neoprene. Now here comes the rest of the wave with shouts, jumps and splashes. I ease over to the far end of the start line and when the klaxon sounds there isn’t too much jostling. My stroke beeper is set at 1:08sec/stroke; nice and relaxed. I know I’m near the back of the wave, but I pace myself. I plug away steadily for my 36mins. At the exit pontoon strong hands pull me onto my foot and I have to hop up the steep gangway to where son Tom and son-in-law Phill are ready in their high-vis vests with a chair and my running leg.
The wetsuit peels off with wisps of vapour from my exertions. I’m already wearing my stump liner, and the running leg’s socket slips on easily. Now I’m ready for the stairs. Tom and Phill jog behind me and we’re all panting by the time we reach the bike and another chair. Heart rate – 160bpm.
My cycling leg has a cut-down socket to avoid clashes with the saddle and a free-wheeling knee to minimise cycling resistance. It’s almost impossible to walk on. We’ve put the bike as close to the mount line as we can, so I teeter the 30m or so and throw the false leg over the saddle. Phill clips me in on that side and they both give me a good shove. I clip in on the right and I’m away down a steep ramp onto the dockland streets.
There’s a bit of a headwind, and some surprising gradients – I’m down to my lowest gear climbing out of Limehouse Link. After the Westminster turn there’s a welcome tailwind and the landmarks slide past quickly, but not quickly enough for me to stay ahead of the fastest riders in the next wave who whirr past, looking spectacular. I hold my heart rate at 140bpm and use the aerobars as much as possible. I hit some nasty yellow road markings/rumble strips on the way back up to ExCel. I can’t stand out of the seat with my cycling prosthetic so the shocks go right through me; the dentist will need to check my fillings after that.
The ramp into ExCeL just before the dismount is a reverse of the exit ramp. I’m in the bottom gear before the slope but it’s as much as I can do to stay on the bike. I round the corner and here are Tom and Phill’s bright vests waiting to catch me. I unclip on the right, then the left and swing the prosthetic back over the saddle while Tom supports me.
My stump has gone into hibernation over the last 1:26hrs, and it complains painfully as I put weight on it to walk. It’s a long way to the rack point where the chair is very welcome reprieve for a few seconds before it’s off with the cycling leg and on with the running leg.
Chris on the bike course at the London Tri. Image: Marathon-Photos.com
As soon as I start to jog I know that the long walk has done its work; my stump is awake and I’m ready for the 10km. Running is still my favourite discipline and I bounce comfortably on the carbon-fibre blade. It’s about a mile east along the Thames before the lap turn, and several of those who pass me make encouraging comments. I let my heart rate float up above 150bpm and I’m having fun.
Approaching the ExCeL I spot my wife Denise and daughter Miriam cheering me on, and we high-five as I sweep past. The run continues to go well, and on the last lap I push my heart above 160bpm. I feel a burning sensation at the front of my stump and I know that the skin has blistered and started to break down, but it will only be a surface rub and I’m not slowing down now.
Finally inside ExCeL after 57mins running, I hear the finish line MC announce my arrival. There’s a warm cheer from the crowd and it’s done: 3:15:37 and 2,544th out of 3,357 finishers. Better than I’d hoped for, and another miracle – a half-Ironman next?
Chris and Denise Arthey have spoken to dozens of audiences about their experiences and how to overcome adversity. Visit chrisarthey.co.uk to read more, where you can enquire about booking Chris and Denise to speak at your event.