For many people, the idea of entering an Ironman distance triathlon would seem ludicrous, but for Mick Baldwin it was just a natural progression from the shorter versions of the swim/bike/run format he so thoroughly enjoyed. Unfortunately, in April 2015, Mick’s triathlon career took a severe setback that would take incredible strength and commitment to overcome.
It was a typically beautiful autumn day, clear skies and light winds, when Mick set out on one of his regular endurance rides, but the road ahead was going to offer a challenge beyond Mick’s expectations …
How many Ironman races have you completed, and what made you take on the longer distance?
I started triathlon in 2007 and gradually increased the distance of my races over the subsequent years. I had completed a dozen half distance Ironman races, and Ironman 2015 was to be my third full Ironman race. Endurance triathlons provide a challenge I feel is better suited to someone of my age (middle age) due to the slower pace. I am energised by the endurance side of the IM race, and it gives me a personal goal to train towards.
Tell us about the day you had planned before your world was turned upside down.
The 9th April 2015, I began my training ride at 5am, planning to ride for 5-6 hours in the lead up to Ironman Australia, Port Macquarie. It was school holidays and being a teacher, I had planned to spend the day with my family and later that week family up north.
Tell us about the accident that brought everything to a grinding halt …
Around 9:30am Thursday morning I was riding in the breakdown lane southbound on the Pacific Hwy just south of the Donut. A distracted driver veered into my lane, slamming her 4WD into me from behind at 100km/h. As a Christian, I believe it a modern-day miracle that the impact did not kill me instantly. The distance between impact and where I landed on the road was 100 m. I totally destroyed the bumper, bonnet, windscreen and pillars of the car. A witness told me I travelled about 50 m through the air like a rag doll. I still get emotional about what my body would have endured in these moments.
The first aiders (to whom I am forever grateful) called the ambulance and did their best to assess my injuries and stop the bleeding (particularly from my head wounds). One of the first aiders I am yet to identify and personally thank. Transported to Port Macquarie Base Hospital, I was stabilised before entering surgery for about four hours. One team worked on a badly broken wrist, inserting a plate, and another team did their best at repairing a severely de-scalped head. I lost my helmet in the accident and required about 100 stitches to stop the bleeding. I give praise to all the medical staff at the hospital for their expertise and caring attitudes.
Every day I thank my God for preventing any spinal or brain injuries. Additional injuries included whiplash, a broken sternum and ribs, breaks to my elbow, foot and finger, and extensive friction burns to the majority of my body.
This is every cyclist’s nightmare! Did you always believe you would make it back to training, let alone racing after your accident?
I woke up about two days after being hit and honestly believed I would still be able to race Ironman 2015, which was three weeks away, albeit a little slower than planned. However, after the realisation I had to learn to walk again and not really understanding the extent of my injuries or the trauma my body had experienced, I accepted that I would not be toeing the line come race day. Yet, from that day I set myself a personal goal to be race ready for Ironman 2016. With God’s help and grace I hoped that training was going to be possible again. Bible verses such as “For nothing is impossible with God” gave me inspiration to endure the hard, long road to recovery.
Who or what was your biggest motivator?
I don’t easily give up, and the satisfaction I get from triathlon was powerful in driving my recovery. Being physically restricted was something new to me, but was never something that I considered would be permanent. I had so much support from friends and family, and in particular my awesome wife, Casey. The journey of returning to normal life (walking, working, family life etc.) was one I expected to achieve. Lesson one was to take things slowly – much slower than I was accustomed to.
Tell us about your support network during recovery.
I will never be able to thank my loved ones enough! It hurts me to think of what I put them all through – looking back, it pains me to imagine what must have gone through their minds, uncertain as to whether I would survive or not. Casey continues to be my anchor. She has endured so much, and I honestly couldn’t have recovered without her. My three kids (Sam, Tia and Tom) regularly acknowledge their gratefulness that they still have a dad. My folks were crucial in my recovery and support for Casey. I had crucial support from the rest of my family and best mates, my church family (Honour), my employer (Heritage Christian School) and the community in general.
The medical and nursing staff and community health professionals were pivotal in my physical recovery. Finally, Jesus Christ has been my rock and reason for living. Each day I thank Him for being alive and consider the quality of life He has restored to me, yet another miracle.
How did the triathlon community react to the accident?
Speaking to many fellow triathletes, I get the impression that my accident has shaken some of them up a little. A cyclist getting hit by a car is not uncommon, but I think the severity of my
accident has made some re-think the danger in this sport and take extra caution when riding. The triathlon community has been extremely supportive in my recovery and is such an encouraging factor in my aim to train and race again. Ironman were very gracious in supporting me reach the starting line for this year’s race … I am grateful for the efforts of the Local Organising Committee for IM, in particular, Mike Reid and Greg Laws.
How do you think you will go in your first Ironman since the accident?
As it has been two years since my last Ironman. I am entering it with respect and know that it will be a day of highs and lows (hopefully more highs). I will be stoked to complete the race in under 12 hours and not to go through the “world of hurt” I have experienced in my previous races, but maybe I’m kidding myself.
Anyway, anything quicker would be a massive bonus. I honestly plan to take it steady, and soak up the atmosphere that Port IM is famous for. It is an awesome day, and the support of the community at events such as IM is what makes Port such a great place to live. My triathlon goals are long-term, and I would love to be competing for many years to come.
Twelve months on from the accident, I have sustained considerable aches and pains, particularly in my neck, back, chest and wrist. I therefore consider the fact that I can swim, ride and run with minimal pain such a bonus, and hope my body holds up on the day.
Thanks Mick. We’re glad you’re back and look forward to seeing you smashing IM 2016 on May 1.
Interview by Ed Godschalk.