15 December 2014
Nathan Johnston was born with retinitis pigmentosa which is a degenerative disease that attacks the retina and by age 14 he had little sight (about 10 per cent). He learned to overcome this impairment and using braille passed his HSC.
He didn't want to let his disability slow him down so he tried many sports, including surfing and cycling. He excelled at cycling on his special tandem bike and in recent years turned his skills to triathlon and multi sports.
Under the guidance of 22-time Ironman legend and serving police sergeant Glenn Gorick, Johnston completed the 2014 triathlon in Port Macquarie in 13 hours 30 minutes, beating home 600 able-bodied competitors, and raising a significant amount for New South Wales Police Legacy.
In windy conditions he swam for almost one and a half hours, cycled six and a half hours and ran a marathon in just over five hours, which is a very respectable time for Australia's toughest one-day triathlon.
Last year he competed in this event, his first ironman, with a 3.8 kilometre swim, 180km cycle and 42km marathon in 14 hours, beating home 400 able-bodied athletes.
He ran with the then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, now Prime Minister, in last year’s Sydney City2Surf and was part of a team of police who ran 420km from Narromine to Sydney, all in the name of charity.
Tethered to a small rope
‘‘Nathan does all the hard work and I help steer him, tethered to a small rope which lets him know I am near,’’ Gorick says. “I’ll be his eyes for the entire race and will be beside him the whole time.
‘It does take a lot of training but Nathan just loves it. It’s truly inspirational,” he says. “He’s even encouraging the able-bodied athletes to do it.”
Johnston plays down the difficulty of competing in triathlons. “There are plenty of other guys doing it tough. Like when I was running at the Australian Paratriathlon in Penrith – the first national title for disabled triathletes – and I heard this strange pounding sound coming from behind me. Turns out it was a bloke with two new [carbon fibre] legs.’’
Johnston’s impressive efforts and his skill as an inspirational speaker have inspired many able-bodied people to get off the couch. He was presented with a trophy to a standing ovation at the Port Macquarie awards ceremony and has featured in numerous TV and radio interviews. Johnston has also been a prolific charity fundraiser for the McGrath and Motor Neurone Disease Foundations, and also organised a fun run, the annual Burgh to Beach, as a race director.
He plans to continue competing and hopes to be selected to represent his country in future events including the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii and the Rio Paralympics.