Zbynek’s maiden Ironman Langkawi 2010 win

Ironman Zbynek Svehla during the bicycle event
Ironman Zbynek Svehla during the bicycle event

There is something about the Ironman Triathlon event. It never fails to attract participants from near and far, be they old or young, able or disabled. And Ironman Langkawi 2010 was one such event in point.

For disabled contestant Zbynek Svehla from the Czech republic, he had been taking part in the Ironman challenge since he was 19. Now, at 35 and for the first time, he won the Ironman Langkawi 2010 championship. This was his time participanting after his first triathlon in Langkawi held two years ago.

The Ironman Langkawi is a tough endurance  comprising a 3.8 km swim, a 180 km bike ride and a 42.2 km run. This sport is one in a qualifying series throughout the world that qualify athletes for the Ford Ironman World Championship held every October in Kona, Hawaii.

Zbynek however did not meet the qualifying time to join the Championship in Hawaii.
An avid sportsman, Zbynek, 35, met with an accident during the sport in 1994. While it was tough going initially and with the support of his family, Zbynek has moved on, continuing to pursue the sport he loves.

“It was 16 years ago. I was young, I was eager. I was going downhill on my bicycle and the accident happened. It was a big accident.  Initially, I would keep dreaming that I would be able to walk again and everything would be great. During that time, my family always supported me, but it was very hard for them. Today, I want to make them proud,” he said.

Ironman Zbynek preparing to start the water event


The first year after the accident, Zbynek focused on swimming and became a member of the paralypmic swimming team.

“After the accident, I had to re-learn how to swim. I did not care so much about the difficulties in my way. I just wanted to enjoy this sport and started taking part in the Paralympics,” he said.
Over time, his confidence grew and Zbynek got himself a hand-cycle to ‘enjoy cycling again’ and which was the beginning of his journey into  triathlons.

In 2000 he faced his first race in the wheelchair category. But he could not complete the race. Not one to give up easily, Zbynek participated again and again. Finally in 2003, he completed the race in Kona, Hawaii. That was seven years ago. He won second place in the bicycle (hand cycle) category and went on to become the first wheelchair- user to finish the Ironman Hawaii race.

Zbynek said: “I felt very happy as it was a very hard race.  I had to push step by step to the finish line. It was an important success for me.”


He has since completed seven Ironman challenges.

“I was here two years ago and I enjoyed it so much. This year I wanted to succeed because I want to go to Kona, Hawaii. So this race was a challenge for me to finish well,” he said

When he swims, volunteers are on hand to help him get into the water, after which he slowly moves his body out to sea. He uses his upper body to swim. Zbynek has two different wheelchairs for running and cycling.

After swimming, volunteers waiting at the destination carried him to his hand-cycle. It has a chair and a paddle and Zbynek used his hands to control the paddle and went on to clock 14:18:10.
When he reached the finishing line, Zbynek did not feel good and felt very tired.

“I felt tired after the bike section, which  is usually the hardest part of the race. As a person with disability, I must be more sensitive to my body and be more careful. If I train too much, I can have some problems, For example, my body undergoes a lot of stress from sitting all day long in my wheelchair, plus  my kidneys are also fragile. So staying healthy is the greatest challenge for PWDs.”
For  Zbynek, his greatest motivation is the Ironman challenge itself.

“I completed the triathlon before the accident. I like this sport very much and that is why even after my accident I never gave up on the Ironman because it is special to me.”

For Zbynek, one of the greatest pleasure is to be able to race besides able-bodied athletes.
“There are not so many disability sports where PWDs have the opportunity to race together with other able-bodied athletes. That is also the reason I wanted to join Ironman.” he said.

Zbynek’s greatest supporter is his girlfriend who understands and supports his focus and determination to win the triathlon.

“It is not easy because both of us are work full-time, so we could not afford enough time to be together. But still, she has always supported me by keep me company while I train.”

Zbynek is not sure he will be able to make it next year for the Ironman triathlon in Langkawi.

“Langkawi is a lovely place. I finished the Ironman and still had a day left to tour the island with my girlfriend. It was a great vacation for me.”


CHALLENGES VOL3 ISSUE2 2010 (Challenges Magazine is a journalism skills training project for persons with disabilities started in 2007)