When Steve Archdekin enters a triathlon, he expects nothing more than a last place finish.
The Nelson man developed a rare form of arthritis called Reiter’s Syndrome when he was 19, and as a result has been living with constant, full-body pain for the past decade.
“My body will shut down completely for a year or two and I can’t do anything, then I get a window of opportunity when I can be active and I don’t want to waste it,” said Archdekin, who is just coming off a long period of being bedridden.
His first triathlon this year was at Christina Lake, June 24, and last weekend he raced in Calgary. He has a total of eight events scheduled this summer, including the Cyswog’n’fun triathlon in Nelson on August 5.
“This year is just about re-building my body and seeing what I’m capable of,” he said. “If I can, next year I want to be doing a triathlon every weekend.”
Archdekin always gets a lot of attention on the race course. No element of a triathlon is easy for him.
His spine is fused together, so he can’t lift his head to look up to see where he’s going in the water. So he often swims well off course and needs to be pointed back in the right direction.
On his bike, he can’t lean forward to get into a streamline position. He rides with his handle bars raised as high as possible, and he needs to wear running shoes on the bike, rather than clipless cycling shoes, because his feet would fall asleep if he couldn’t move them around on the pedal.
Running is the hardest part of the triathlon for Archdekin. At best, his gait is more of a hobble.
It usually takes him two hours to complete a sprint distance event — 500 metre swim, 20 kilometre bike ride and five kilometre run — which an average male athlete could do in 1:20.
Archdekin’s longest time was 3:24, in the 2005 Nelson triathlon.
“For me, time doesn’t matter, which is freeing because for most athletes that’s all they care about,” he said. “My times are just a reflection of how much pain I was in when I did the race and how much I had to overcome to finish.”
Archdekin has never been unable to finish a race, though he’s had the race paramedics advise him to stop.
“I love it too much to quit,” he said. “Sometimes I collapse or my body will seize up, but I keep going. Nobody’s going to pull me out of a race.”
He knows that racing puts a lot of stress on his body and his doctors have told him it’s a bad idea. But that doesn’t matter to him.
“I’m going to keep racing until the day I die,” he said. “If I couldn’t be athletic, I wouldn’t want to be alive.”