The New Zealand Herald: Near-death experience in rear view

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Dodds determined to put a health scare behind him as he tackles ITU triathlon.

The pain of a burst appendix while on a training ride in the Pyrenees probably wasn’t the worst part of an experience which still affects triathlete Tony Dodds almost a year later.

Worse was lying in a hospital bed in a town near Montpellier without his training mate Kris Gemmell – who had left to take part in the Olympics in London. He didn’t speak French and had no idea what was happening.

“Probably for about three days I didn’t know what was going on,” Dodds said. “I couldn’t speak French and they couldn’t speak English.

“Then I was all drugged up on morphine and everything. For three days I was out to it. No one knew where I was because they went to the Olympics.

“They just said I went to hospital to check my stomach out. I got left on my death bed, basically.”

Dodds, 25, has raced since that fateful day last August, including in his own popular event that he set up in his hometown of Wanaka, and is now ready to compete in tomorrow’s Barfoot and Thompson ITU Series race around downtown Auckland.

He recounts the tale with the air of a man glad to put a painful event behind him.

But even the fact that he still has stomach issues despite the appendix being removed doesn’t seem to faze him. It’s said with a smile rather than a grimace. “It’s just something I have to get through,” he said.

“I found out about two months later what had actually happened. My surgeon said it was dangerous. He said, ‘you nearly carked it’.

“I’ve had problems since then. About five weeks ago I ended up in accident and emergency because I had excruciating pains. They don’t know what it is. They said if the worst comes to the worst we’ll just take your gall bladder out.”

Having trained at altitude at Wanaka’s Snow Farm recently, Dodds said he wasn’t sure how he would go tomorrow but he has good recent form, having come third at the Oceania championships in Wellington – the first New Zealander home.

He is ranked 53rd in the world after his illness-enforced absence last year. If anyone deserves a slice of luck it is the swim specialist tempted into triathlon when, as a boarder at Southland Boys’ High School, he watched Hamish Carter race to Olympic gold in Athens.

Dodds swam and played rugby at school but decided to concentrate on the pool because he wanted to get to the Olympics. That changed slightly when watching Carter’s race instead of doing his homework.

“The swimmer came out [of the water] in 17 minutes or something and I thought, ‘oh, I can beat him by a minute. I might … give triathlon a go’.”

After a tumultuous past 12 months or so, Dodds just wants to race consistently this season. Top-10 placings and a few podiums would be fine by him, and there is a Commonwealth Games qualifying race looming at the end of the year.

“That’s something I want to do well in.”

Fast facts

* Auckland’s ITU World Series triathlon tomorrow:

* Course: 1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run

* Elite men’s race start: noon

* Men’s top seed: Javier Gomez (ESP)

* Top NZ seed: Ryan Sissons (world No 19)

* Elite women’s race start: 3pm

* Women’s top seed: Anne Haug (GER)

* Top NZ seed: Andrea Hewitt (world No 3).


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