Top triathlete Kieran Doe has had an astonishing escape from career-threatening injury, after a horrific crash during yesterday's Tinman in Mount Maunganui.
Doe was taken away by ambulance after colliding head-on with Cambridge triathlete Cameron Holt halfway along Pilot Bay, as he was heading out for the last of four cycle laps in the CentralMed-sponsored event.
Both riders were hitting speeds of up to 40kmh when they collided, and while Holt escaped with grazing to his legs. There were serious fears Doe had broken both his left femur and left wrist.
Ambulance staff assessed and stabilised him before he went to Tauranga Hospital.
It wasn't until several hours after the accident, which happened shortly after 9am, that x-rays cleared Doe of any breakage, leaving him with a severe haematoma and a profound sense of relief.
"Even the nurses and doctors yahoo-ed when they saw it wasn't broken on the x-ray," Doe said.
"I thought it would be a matter of how many times it was broken, not if it was actually broken. It's a bit of a miracle really, considering the pain I was in and seeing my leg. It looked like the bone was sticking out the side.'' Doe admits his career flashed before his eyes.
"I was thinking if it was my femur, I know a few people who have broken them and it's anywhere between eight and 12 months and even then, some people don't fully recover."
Originally from Feilding and now in Auckland, Doe has strong links with Tauranga. He has become a firm crowd favourite after a series of heroic bridesmaid finishes in the Port of Tauranga half ironman, and recently joined Triathlon Tauranga.
His mum Pam now lives at the Mount, while local car dealer Absolute Autos is sponsoring him with a car.
The 25-year-old race favourite was leading when he crashed yesterday, having exited the water with Tauranga swim specialist Craig Stewart.
Stewart cut a devastated figure after finishing the race in sixth after hearing Doe's plight, as the dreadlocked star had shown outstanding sportsmanship as they came into the first transition.
"I was having trouble with my wetsuit and he slowed down and undid it for me," Stewart said.
"That's why it's so sad _ he helped me out and we were working together really well in the swim."
Stewart himself smashed his kneecap 18 months ago when a car pulled out in front of him on a bike ride, and knows how devastating such an injury would have been for Doe's season.
With the inaugural Queenstown Ironman coming up and a full season of big races, Doe will seek advice from medical staff in Auckland this week to see how long he'll be away from the sport, but it will be weeks rather than the months as first feared.
It was his first crash in an organised race and he admitted he was at fault.
"We were riding along and three guys swerved out in front of me on my side of the road and I had to swerve to miss them, and I crossed the centre line," he said.
Holt, a 21-year-old fromCambridge, was clearly shaken afterwards, but mostly concerned with Doe's injury.
"I just looked up and he was on my side of the road," Holt said.
"I swerved to my left and he swerved to his right and we both ended up meeting in the gutter. We were both on our aero-bars and had to look up and try and find our brakes before we could really do anything."
Taupo's Duncan Milne won the race, continuing his strong buildup to the half ironman next month, where he finished eighth last year.
"I'm absolutely rapt with that," Milne said.
"It was a buildup for the half in a couple of weeks and I knew my swim and bike would be OK but wasn't sure how my run was going to go. The swim was a battle but I just had to find my own rhythm."
The women's race was taken out by Rotorua's Amanda Westward, who won her age-group in the half ironman this year but didn't expect to do nearly as well yesterday.
"I would have been happy with a top-10 finish because last year the field was a bit stronger," Westward said. "I really didn't think I'd get top-three so I'm really pleased."