After a brutal attack at knife point, leaving her with severe injuries to her dominant right-hand side, accomplished triathlon athlete Lynda Schonfeldt is testimony, yet again, of what the power of the mind, and a positive and determined attitude, can accomplish.
On Sunday 5 May 2019, whilst out on a training ride with a group of fellow female cyclists, I was brutally attacked, at knife point, by three adult males and robbed of my time trial bike.
As we were heading out of Stellenbosch, riding next to each other along a well-known route, we noticed a group of three men walking towards us along the pavement. The tandem bike ahead of us had already passed them, but as my friend and I got closer, one of the men almost fell off the pavement towards us. I told my friend I would pull in behind her so that we were further away from them and could ride on the yellow line of the shoulder. However, before I knew what was happening, I was lying on the road underneath my bike.
At the time, we were riding at a speed of approximately 23 km/ hour.
Two of the men were trying to rip the bike away from me whilst the third man was grabbing at my top, demanding my cell phone. I tried to get up but was stunned from having fallen on the side of my face and realised that I could not move my arm. The man showed me a knife and kept on demanding my phone, whilst grabbing at the back of my top.
Fortunately, the other riders had stopped by then and were making their way back to me, together with two motorcyclists who had also stopped. So, after taking my phone, the third man ran away.
This was one of our last long training rides for the Ironman Durban 70.3 race. My friend, on the back of the tandem, was a blind triathlete training for her first 70.3 Ironman event and so I tried to remain as calm as possible until we received assistance to get to the hospital. It therefore only became clear to me that evening that I had been severely hurt. After visiting the emergency room, I was told that I needed emergency surgery for an acutely shattered elbow. After spending a long time in theatre, I awoke the next morning to find a plate and six screws in my elbow, together with a fractured cheek bone and severely bruised and swollen hand. On top of this, the surgeon confirmed that I would not be able to compete in the upcoming Durban 70.3 event, a mere four weeks away.
Determined not to be defeated, as soon as I left hospital, I immediately contacted my biokineticist, Russell Looms, in order to put a rehab programme in place. However, as my dominant right-hand side had unfortunately taken the brunt of the fall, not only were seemingly every day basic tasks difficult, but the surgeon insisted that I could not use my arm to avoid impairing the healing process.
But I remained determined to compete in Durban!
Whilst I started running almost immediately and was on a stationary bike within a week, I knew swimming would be a problem. After consulting with my coach, Glen Gore, we decided I would attempt to swim using one arm only but to only tackle this in Durban immediately prior to the event to allow for maximum healing.
Exactly three weeks to the day of having been attacked, I took my first ride outdoors. It was extremely painful, and I could only manage a short distance, but I was thrilled to be alive and able to ride once again.
The week before I was due to leave for Durban however, both my surgeon and GP ruled me medically unfit to compete. I was devastated! Having signed up for the African Ironman Series, it consisted of competing all three African Ironman events in one year. I had already completed both the 70.3 in East London (January) and the full Ironman in Port Elizabeth (April), with only the Durban event remaining in order to achieve this goal.
It was hard! Having completed my first triathlon ever at the age of 48 in October 2015, I had fallen in love with the sport, going on to complete six half Ironman and two full Ironman events over the past three years, with the African Ironman Series my ultimate goal in South Africa. But, after accepting the severity of my injury, I decided to refocus my time and energy on working closely with Russell Looms and the EPT team in Stellenbosch, concentrating on rehab and strengthening to allow my body the best possible recovery in order to be able to continue participating in the wonderful sport of triathlon for many years to come.
It is now just over 11 weeks since the attack, and I am gearing up to participate in the first ever Cape Town Challenge event in November – a half Ironman distance race consisting of a 1.9km swim, 90km bike ride and 21km run. Despite having to face an operation beforehand in August, to remove the plate and screws from my elbow, I am confident that with a proper recovery plan in place, my body will be strong, and I am looking forward to taking part.
As for my attack, whilst the beautiful time trial bike (a gift from my ever supportive husband) has not been recovered, I hold no malice towards the perpetrators (believed to be part of a syndicate operating in the area). I believe that in order to heal, and move forward, one needs to forgive and to concentrate on creating a positive today in order to have a successful future.
And I am grateful, beyond words, to still be able to swim, ride a bike and run, both now and into the future, for as many years as my body allows.
Keep Going Lynda!