So Andreas Dreitz can’t really believe it. His career was in jeopardy after a serious wheel fall, but now he’s standing on a hill in Kailua-Kona looking down at the Pacific Ocean. The 33-year-old will swim there at the Ironman Hawaii on Saturday. “It feels so good to be here on this island with all these crazy people,” he says. “It’s so much better than spending time in doctor’s waiting rooms.”
That Dreitz can now be here in the German House at the Ironman Hawaii is anything but a given. It was almost five months ago that his run at the World Championships in Utah came to an abrupt end. At 82 kilometers and at 85 km/h he collided with a motorcycle – Dreitz had no chance, it was not his fault that he ended up in hospital instead of at the finish line. After difficult weeks, he is now counting down the days until the legendary race in Hawaii.
The 33-year-old can hardly judge how strong he is at the moment, but the most important thing: he no longer has problems or limitations. And: “I’m in a much improved shape, I was able to complete very good units, especially in swimming and running, which gives me a lot of confidence. Even when you were cycling recently,” he says. “But it’s hard to classify where I actually stand.”
His path was blocked, no chance
He wouldn’t have been one of the top favorites for a podium spot before, but he would certainly have outsider chances at his fourth Ironman World Championship. Due to the accident in Utah and the subsequent interruption in training, Dreitz does not see the point in throwing all goals overboard. “I would be lying to myself if I said: ‘My goal is the top ten. Even if the top ten is a very realistic goal given the circumstances – not stacked too low, but not set too high either,” he says. “But my goal has to be more, I want to keep moving forward. Whether it will work this year is doubtful, but not impossible.”
Review: On May 7, the Ironman World Championship, which was canceled in October due to the pandemic in Hawaii, will be held in St. George is rescheduled. Dreitz does well in the race and looks strong on the bike. But suddenly he disappears in the meantime, and the TV cameras don’t find him either. About half an hour later, he is said to have probably collided with one of the organizer’s media motorbikes.
Dreitz recalls: “It was a descent that ended in a bottleneck. Three motorcyclists were in front of me, two were on the far left and braked, the third drove completely into my lane and then braked.” His path is blocked. “I didn’t have a chance to dodge, just the opportunity to hit the motorcycle, slide into the spectators or into oncoming traffic. All not good options, especially if you drive 85 km/h.”
An extremely rare injury
The diagnosis – in addition to bruises and abrasions: a fractured spinous process and a fractured transverse process of the lumbar spine. “Painful, but relatively uncomplicated,” says Dreitz. “It’s usually just a matter of time before it heals.” The consequences were more problematic. Because the fact that it healed automatically also meant that Dreitz was initially not allowed to do much in the back area and the trunk muscles retracted a bit, which he then had to slowly build up again.
Only a little later, during further examinations, it was found that a muscle in the left thigh had been almost completely torn: the voltage band width (Latin for thigh band extensor or thigh fascia extensor). Dreitz explains: “He did a key function when the leg muscles reach the limits of their work. Especially when it is put under quite a lot of stress over a long period of time.” And that’s exactly what long-distance triathlons do.
The chances of Dreitz being able to play sports again were good. However, it was unclear whether this would also be enough for top-class sports. He could only come back very carefully. Forced end of career? It was possible. At first none of the doctors could tell him in which direction things would go. “For one thing, the injury is extremely rare. And then there is the fact that the muscle is actually irrelevant to everyday life,” he explains. “Which is good at first, because a lot can happen with a fall like this, and the fact that only one’s sports career has been put at risk is still a minor evil compared to other possible consequences. I had many guardian angels.” And yet this uncertainty. will it be again
Processing the accident is difficult
The fall did not only have physical consequences. And since it was someone else’s fault, there was and still is a lot to clear up. “It’s very tough,” says Dreitz. “And of course that doesn’t make it any easier to end it. Undoubtedly, the damage was great.” And he’s not just talking about his bike, which is completely broken.
Basically, that was his entire season. And triathletes are their own bosses without association structures, they invest time and money. “And then you hope to get it all back in the form of prize money, bonuses etc. But first, you make a clear advance payment,” explains Dreitz. Prize money and bonuses have now been eliminated. Also visibility for his sponsors, plus the medical expenses. “Let’s see if and which insurance will pay for the treatment costs. In any case, there is a lot of additional bureaucracy that you don’t really want to deal with as an athlete.”
Now, these days in Hawaii, sports are finally back in the spotlight. And thanks to a wildcard from the organizer. The crash robbed him of his chance to qualify in Utah. In light of the injuries, his hope of still securing the starting place in the summer by means of a sports qualification for a long distance was too great. Time was running out for him during the healing and rebuilding process, a long distance was no longer possible. “Of course I am very happy that I can play again in the concert of the greats,” says Dreitz about the wildcard. “As a small recovery, sort of.”
Now he’s hoping for exactly what most others fear: strong, gusty winds on race day. Also rain. As a strong cyclist it will suit him. “The more wind, the harder the race, the better my chances,” he says. “And if I see an opportunity, then I want to take it.”
However, whether the hamstring will actually hold on October 8 is not something that can be easily tested in advance. Because without a competition, Dreitz doesn’t even get into the area where the muscles make the difference. He has since competed in one race, but over half the distance. “It has not yet been finally clarified whether it is 100 percent good again or not.”