Krige Schabort tends to get reflective around the time of the ING New York City Marathon each year. It isn’t the race so much—though it’s a favorite of his—as it is the timing, in early November.
Schabort’s life changed drastically on November 2, 1987, when the then-corporal in the South African Army and his unit came under attack by Russian planes in the Angola Border War. A bomb exploded next to Schabort, who remembers seeing his foot on his chest before lapsing into a coma. He wound up losing both legs. Doctors have since told him his survival was a long shot.
He has now spent more time without his legs than with them. “What a realization of the life and journey I’ve had,” the 49-year-old two-time New York champion says. “It’s amazing. It’s almost like a storybook I could do one day.”
After a year in hospitals, Schabort became a champion wheelchair athlete, a medal winner and five-time participant in the Paralympics, a U.S. citizen, and a motivational speaker.
“It was a team effort,” he says of life without legs. “I had the desire but also I had family and friends. I was fortunate it was at a time wheelchair racing was developing quite a bit. It turned out to be a big success for me.
“Of course, it’s tough losing your legs. But you can’t tell where I would have been [with them]. I’m pretty sure I would not have seen what I’ve seen and been where I am today.”
Schabort and family—wife Caron, an occupational therapist, plus children Daniel, 10, Simon, 8, and Sarah, 2—live in Cedartown, GA, a town of about 10,000 an hour west of Atlanta.
“They’re very active; they want to expend energy all the time,” Schabort says of his children. “There’s almost no day I don’t do anything with them.”
The growing family may lead to a change in his athletic focus. He plans to cut back on his international marathons and concentrate more on the triathlon. (Wheelchair athletes use handcycles for the triathlon’s cycling portion, wheelchairs for the running portion.) He won his division at the Hawaii Ironman last year, but he won’t defend his title in October because he concentrated his training this year on the London Paralympics marathon, in which he finished 10th.
His current thinking is to concentrate on the triathlon, which will be held at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. Then he might retire.
Schabort knows that plans can change. He and Caron came to the United States in 1997, intending to train here for a few years. But they never left and secured citizenship in 2009. “I’m very, very glad we did it,” Schabort says. “This is the perfect situation.”
A few years ago, Schabort got an e-mail from a doctor who had tended to his wounds in a helicopter after the 1987 attack. The physician, now living in Canada, had noticed Schabort’s name in the ING New York City Marathon results and found his e-mail address. Schabort has since gotten a letter from the doctor every year near the anniversary of the attack.
“I was one of the few with serious injuries who survived,” he says. “It really makes it more special to me to think I’m still alive after those circumstances.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg