Wales

Ironman Wales: 'My 140-mile challenge four years after back break'

Emma Wyatt-Haines Image copyright Emma Wyatt-Haines
Image caption Emma Wyatt-Haines has trained for 14 months to get back to fitness for Ironman Wales

When Emma Wyatt-Haines lay in her hospital bed after smashing a vertebrae "to pieces" in a skiing accident in the Alps, she feared if she'd walk again.

Four years and three back operations later, the 30-year-old doctor - and her artificial vertebrae - is competing for a 140-mile all-day Ironman.

Emma was one of more than 2,000 athletes on the start line for Sunday's early morning Ironman Wales in Tenby.

It's a far cry from that morning where she was airlifted off the slopes.

"When I hit the deck, I can't even begin to describe the pain," Emma recalled.

She was with her boyfriend James and some friends at a ski park on the French Alps when the accident happened in 2015.

"I'd only been skiing a few times and I didn't want to do any jumps so I thought I'd ski around the outside," Emma told BBC Radio 4.

"Suddenly someone veered towards me, I turned to avoid them and there was a 10 foot scoop top jump and I just went up in the air, rotated backwards and landed straight down on my back.

Image copyright Emma Wyatt-Haines
Image caption Emma has undergone intensive rehab after her three back operations

"I knew it was bad as soon as it happened."

She was taken by helicopter to hospital where it was revealed she had fractured her lower vertebrae.

"One of the vertebrae in my back had shattered and was in lots of pieces - one piece was only 9mm from my spinal cord.

"It was quite precarious and if it had been any closer then I wouldn't be doing the Ironman."

The doctor who practices in Merthyr Tydfil has subsequently had three operations in the next 18 months, including removing bone fragments and installing a "bone cage" to stabilise her back.

"Recovery was a really slow process," she recalled.

Image copyright Emma Wyatt-Haines
Image caption Emma needed surgery three times in 18 months to be able to walk pain-free again

"It was small steps, I went back to my parents house as I couldn't do anything for myself.

"My boyfriend used to come down on weekends, because he couldn't get time off work, and would push me to walk a little further.

"He'd say 'today, we're doing walking to the shops".

Forget going down the local corner shop, Emma was alongside James again on Sunday - but this time for a 2.4-mile (3.9km) swim, a 112-mile (180km) bike ride and a 26.2-mile (42km) marathon.

She was on Tenby's North Beach for the 06:55 BST start with athletes from 35 different countries for Wales' biggest triathlon.

The men's event was won in eight hours 48 minutes by Frenchman Arnaud Guilloux.

British athlete Simone Mitchell won the women's race in 9:51:52 - a course record.

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Media captionWhy Ironman Wales is 'better than the World Champs'

It has taken 14 months to train for the hilly event that is considered one of the toughest courses in the world.

"I love sport," said Emma.

"And if I am able to do sport, I will because I did once fear that would be taken away from me."

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Media captionHow it feels to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles, then run a marathon

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