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Sat 1st Oct 2022
Bananaman Relay: The Bananastars report
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Tuesday 21st July 2009

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Top age group athlete Colette O'Neill reports on her late notice call up to race with an Olympic champion and a truly inspirational marathon and ultra-distance runner. The Bananastars...

Sitting in the pub two days before the Bananaman Triathlon (which raises money for Leukaemia Research), I was asked if I would like to be part of a relay with two real sporting stars. In the pub, everything sounds easy and of course I agreed. But as the time grew nearer, I became more nervous … even at my fittest, I am not of that calibre, and with my dad ill in hospital I had lost fitness.

I was up very early to marshall and lead out the run at our own club race beforehand, then shot over to Dorney to meet my teammates. Maartin Van Der Weijden (Leukemia survivor & Olympic 10k Open Water Swim champion) and Richard Whitehead (World Record holder, Marathon Champ and double amputee). I met Richard on arrival, who calmly briefed me on the race while I started to panic inside at the thought of handing over to a real star. Then I was introduced to a smiling blonde giant who was Maartin at the blueseventy stand. Having supported my ex-partner through their treatment for a blood cancer, I had an enhanced feeling of awe by being teamed up with someone who has come out the other side and become a real champion against such adversity – and was so down-to-earth.

The Bananastars

Racking my bike, I became really nervous, I didn’t want to let the guys down. I babbled on to those around me, trying to stay calm and talking nonsense. Maartin sauntered up with minutes to spare, and a huge smile on his face – I wish I was that relaxed. The race began, and I spotted Maartin as the one out in front, all the way but looking amazingly composed. He was back out in a flash and we had a pretty good handover.

It was great to be out first on the bike to much encouragement and I powered off determined not to let anyone pass me. I felt the timing chip slip down my leg, and faffed for a while fearing it would drop off. After a lap a real cyclist in all the gear came by, then another, and reality set in (I was a girl). Two more eventually passed me, but I reassured myself that they were all men. I had a couple of little battles with blokes not liking to be beaten by a girl, eventually dropping them. Despite working my little legs off, I had dropped four places and my bike split was almost exactly the same time as last year’s full race when I was second lady. Still, I had battled six laps through head winds, sudden side gusts and rain at points, the weird makeup of the Dorney micro-climate.

The handover to Richard was pretty smooth, as he carried the chip rather than fixing it to his prosthetic leg. I stood with Maartin and his lovely girlfriend (who had finished fourth in the previous day’s race) supporting Richard as he stormed through the run to make up my deficit and take the lead once again. Turning to start the final lap, suddenly Richard was on the floor! It took a while to work out that one of his carbon prosthetic legs had broken, then he was assisted to a chair where he thoughtfully proceeded to give out water to fellow competitors. Richard was gutted, as were we for him – he had been really flying and for carbon to break like this was very unusual and a real shock during a race. Still, Richard gallantly wanted to finish, so I ran down to his car and retrieved a spare leg, allowing him a cheered-on finish.

What an amazing experience! Being part of a team with these two lovely blokes, members of sporting royalty who have achieved dreams despite adversity was awesome and gave me the same sort of high as when I skydived. Humanrace yet again held a great charity race at a perfect venue.

For more information and inspiration, check out Richard ( and Martin's ( websites.

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