At just 16 Richard Warwick was paralysed on one side of his body by a massive brain bleed. Now 52, his left side is still weak, but he’s not letting it hold him back. Instead, he’s become an adventure sportsman.
“It rocked me. Sixteen is a tough time when you’re trying to figure out who you are in the world anyway,” remembers Richard. “I didn’t get any free passes, my dad was determined I’d live a normal life and my mates didn’t treat me any differently. I’d like to say I took it all in my stride but the reality is I noticed people didn’t make eye contact with me. I didn’t like being identified as disabled.”
However, Richard went on to have a successful career, marrying at 21, he had five children with his wife, Antoinette. With the kids grown, Richard found himself with a lot more time again at 50.
So he took up lawn bowling. “I was asked to represent the Wellington Disabled Lawn Bowlers and had a chance to enter the Commonwealth Games,” says Richard. “I didn’t get in — in the future I might — but it released something in me that had been buried for a long time.”
A newly discovered love of sport opened up his world. “I have a friend in Nelson, Tim, and I suggested we go and watch the Coast to Coast. It’s an epic event in the South Island; insane people do The Longest Day,” says Richard. “They do a 3km run at 6am followed by a 54km bike ride, a 32km mountain run over the Southern Alps, a 15km bike ride, a 67km kayak, and a 70km bike ride. Some people do it in two days, and some just do the mountain run.”
“Your body can stand almost anything, it’s your mind you have to convince ”
When a friend suggested Richard tackle the mountain run he scrambled for a reason not to. “I said I’d need someone to do it with me as a guide,” he says. “Tim offered, so that was it, I had no reason not to.”
The pair got in touch with the Kathmandu Coast to Coast director, five times Longest Day winner, Richard Ussher. “He didn’t say, ‘What do you mean you’re disabled?’, he just said, ‘What can we do to help?’”
Richard also got in touch with Achilles International, which helps people with disabilities participate alongside able-bodied athletes. “It was started by Dick Traum in New York who, in 1976, was the first amputee to complete the New York Marathon,” says Richard. “I met with the chairman of the New Zealand arm, Peter Loft. I wanted to see if he had any training tips, but before I could sit down he said, ‘We’re starting a chapter in Wellington and want you to be a founding member and join us at the New York Marathon.’ The problem was, I couldn’t run. He said, ‘Can you move? I’ve been taking disabled people to the marathon for 20 years and not one hasn’t finished.’”
So Richard found himself with two athletic challenges ahead of him: the 32km Coast to Coast Mountain Run in February 2015 followed by November’s 42km New York City Marathon.
“The Coast to Coast allowed us a couple of hours head start, but there’s a particular point, Goat Pass, that you must get to by a particular time or you’re out of the race. It’s a non-negotiable safety issue,” says Richard. “After eight hours we were not even at Goat Pass. It was over; a helicopter came and lifted us out. It was like my Everest. It was my Longest Day.”
Richard went from off road to on road training for the New York Marathon.
“Over 50,000 people took part and there were about one million on the sidelines,” says Richard. “Lance Walker, the CEO of Cigna, walked it with me because I couldn’t run. I was literally leaning on him at the end.”
A couple of months later Richard received the official magazine. “There, on the last page, 20th from the bottom were the words Richard Warwick 8 hours, 37 minutes and one second,” he says.
“Some time later, Lance asked me what was next and I told him I’d like to try the mountain run again. He asked me what it would take. I told him I’d need two guides and a sponsor.”
“Tim is going to be my guide again, and I also asked my Coast to Coast hero, Menno van der Laan. He’s had five heart attacks but doesn’t let it stop him. I told him if he’d be my guide I’d do whatever he asked. He’s got me on a six-day training programme. I love it. Sometimes I’m in the bush and I’ll see no one for three hours. It’s just me, the birds and the trees.”
“The biggest disability is a bad attitude”
Cigna are proudly sponsoring Richard on his journey to Coast to Coast 2017. Lance says: “Being able to support Richard and see him overcome immense challenges has been inspirational. We have full confidence in Richard’s ability to conquer this mountain run, and we’re really happy that Cigna will support him on this journey.”
Aspiring Enterprises in Christchurch are also making him a purpose built upper body harness, and Wellington Orthotic Centre are making him a state-of-the-art fibre ankle support.
“It makes it so much easier to have such amazing support,” says Richard. “When I was 16 I remember them saying I’d never run again — you can’t help taking those messages on board. But I’ll be 53 when we attempt the mountain run again and I’ll be fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been in my life. And you know what? I know now that I’m enough. I’m OK.”
Richard has started a Facebook page to document his journey to Coast-to-Coast 2017. You can join him here on facebook.
Words: Jenna Moore