Iain Craig was doing very well thank you very much, Craig strode into his fifties, amid a successful career as a tax partner at leading firm BDO, enjoying a busy and rewarding life as a family man, golfer, cyclist and triathlete - with a decent turn at curling a hint to his ancestry.

Then out of nowhere, a wee sty on his left eyelid proved somewhat more serious than first thought, and the jovial Craig considered a life very different.

"I lost my eye three years ago after a wee sty on my left eyelid wouldnt go away. It turned out to be a bit of an iceberg. A much larger lump lay beneath the surface and had grown underneath the eyeball. It was diagnosed as a squamous cell carcinoma, one of those cancer lumps which had to be cut out quickly before the cancer spread. The margin of error meant I lost the complete eye ball, and would have a new look for my fifties and beyond."

That new-look will be challenged big time, when Craig races at IRONMAN 70.3 Taupo on December 9, something he admits he thought might never happen again.

"In terms of my sport the surgeons were confident that I would be able to continue with golf and curling as the starting position are stationery. Other games wouldnt be possible. They told me I might fall over a lot and bump into things more often when I went out for a run. I never asked about triathlon, I assumed my days in triathlon were well and truly over."

While early conversations with the surgeons focused on quality of life and his ability to continue successfully in his career, it was talking to close friends and family that helped him most in his recovery.

"There was no doubt I was very nervous about what lay ahead especially after I was first diagnosed. Talking to my friends and being open about what was happening to me really helped. Sir John Kirwan is so right. I remember being worried about what was going to happen to my career in professional services when one of my golf buddies came up with the magic line for when I meet a prospective client, it was along the lines of I might have lost one eye to cancer, but the other is firmly focused on your business. It cheered me up no end."

Craig credits much of his recovery and his outlook on life to a close circle of friends who never wavered in their support or confidence in a full return to playing action.

"I was blessed to have friends and team mates who assumed I would be able to continue golfing and curling as before. I played my first game of golf on boxing day four weeks after my surgery. Due to the surgery I could barely hit a shot, but I gave everyone in the group an eye patch to wear when they hit their tee shot so they could experience some of what I was going through.

"My curling team was also incredibly supportive, and it was a great relief when I went to Dunedin for a curling weekend and was able to throw my first stone as if not much had changed. Six - eight weeks later I was lucky enough to curl for the New Zealand seniors men team at the World Seniors Curling Championships in Sochi Russia and win a bronze medal. It was a fairy tale end to an incredibly challenging six months."

Triathlon however was going to be another matter, the coordination, the vision and the confidence required to swim bike and run presented a much greater challenge to Craig.

"I have mentioned how comforting it was to get back to my golf and curling after my operation. Triathlon was another experience again though. I am not a naturally committed triathlete nor a natural trainer. I am at the back of the field. I am a much better curler and golfer than I will ever be a triathlete. However, its a sport which keeps drawing me back in and I love it. I love the structure and discipline the training brings to my life and the challenge it demands of you.

"Last year I made a return to triathlon for the first time after the loss of my eye. I thought I would do one sprint triathlon just to show I could do it and then sell my bike and hang up my shoes for good. However, I will never forget the joy I got from the simple act of arriving at the event, racking my bike and unexpectedly meeting friends who had been part of my triathlon journey for the past 25 years.

"Appropriately the triathlon was at Maraetai - phonetically pronounced my-right-eye - which is the one I still have! That day I realized the best hour of triathlon could very well be the hour before the gun goes, when you rack the bike, set out your transition area and try and squeeze into your wetsuit which didnt fit you last year either. Of course, there are nerves, but there is joy as well.

"So, IRONMAN 70.3 Taupo is not about a return to triathlon, I am already back. However, I have been inspired by so many other IRONMAN athletes over the years who have tackled IRONMAN events with much greater challenges than mine. My goal is simply to finish, after all, as Iron Mike Stowers reminds me - finishing is winning."

Craig is learning to cope with the loss of the eye, and the impact it has on his day to day life.

"Aside from choosing which eye patch to wear each day, the key changes arose around the loss of my peripheral vision and the judging of depth and perception. I now drive much smaller cars to give me more room. I get blindsided a lot by people walking up on my left-hand side when I dont expect them to. I also find it difficult to cope with big crowds in unstructured places. I try not to drive in the dark or bad weather. And I tend to bang my head a lot!"

Craig will be hoping no one sneaks up on his left during the race, when he will be one of 979 on the start line in individual and team events on the course that is also used for Kelloggs Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand in March next year.

IRONMAN 70.3 Taupo

Taupo

December 9, 2017

Individual and team events

Entries and information at www.IRONMANtaupo.com
- This story has been automatically published using a media release from Athletics New Zealand