Follow Tim Don's resurgence from a career-threatening spinal injury
© Adrian Pirlet
Going from a broken neck to racing in just six months, Tim Don has defied the odds. Watch his incredible comeback journey in The Man with the Halo.
This story starts with a crash – the kind that normally marks an ending.
Tim Don was a three-time Olympian when he broke the IRONMAN world record while competing in Brazil, on May 28, 2017, clocking a time a full four minutes faster than anyone previously had. When it came time for the IRONMAN World Championship in October, he remained the clear favourite. Don was having the best season of his 20-plus-year career when he arrived in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, his place atop the podium all but reserved.
While on a practice ride two days before the main event, Don was struck while riding in a bicycle lane. The crash broke his neck and his dream of being crowned world champion along with it.
The outlook was favourable, however. Don had managed to avoid any damage to his spinal column and had some range of motion, with no numbness. His broken C2 vertebrae – known as a 'hangman's fracture', for the type of break consistent with hanging – left him with three options for recuperation: a soft brace, surgery or a halo brace. The latter, while painful and extremely uncomfortable, would leave him with the best chance of a viable future in competing.
For Don, the choice was easy. The tough part, as it always is, would be the process. His range of motion was limited by the halo, which meant he had to fundamentally change his training regiment.
He had to spend his time riding a stationary bike mostly upright so as not to put undo stress on his neck, swimming saw the addition of a snorkel due to his inability to turn his neck, and runs were anything but a walk in the park. He typically logged 30 hours of training per week before the accident, and now he hovered around 20, which pushed the limits to the point where the screws drilled into his skull had to be tightened regularly and eventually warranted the drilling of an additional hole.
All of this was in the hope that Don could compete in the 2018 Boston Marathon in April, before returning to IRONMAN competition in July. He ran the marathon, and will return to IRONMAN as hoped.