When Shaz Dagg kayaks solo over Canterbury's Waimakariri River next year for a notoriously challenging multisport race, her technique will be a little different to other competitors.
After all, the Feilding sportswoman only has one arm. But as an amputee who also lives with just one kidney, Shaz is used to facing challenges head on.
As Aotearoa's first elite para-triathlete, who had her left arm amputated below the elbow in 2018 following a freak farm accident, Shaz is busy training for the 2024 Coast to Coast. She's also fundraising for Kidney Kids NZ as part of the two-day race, which will include cycling, kayaking and running a total of 243km.
"By sitting around on our backsides, we just get a bigger backside, and we mope and dwell on the negative," says the former farmer, 57, also known as Limb-it-less Shaz. "But if we get out and go do something, even just a walk around the block, we're not thinking about what we were before."
Shaz was closing a large iron gate on a farm in December 2016 when a huge gust of wind swept her up, slamming her onto a pipe between a post and the gate, snapping her arm in half. In hospital, she was told she'd need to go to theatre that evening to pin her bones back together and then she could expect a normal six-to-eight-week recovery.
"The doctor said if I didn't go to surgery that night, there'd be some serious complications, but I didn't go to theatre for five days because they kept bumping me," recalls the motivational speaker. "Everything would've been OK if I'd gone in that night, but because they left it so long and it had such severe breakages, my arm swelled dramatically."
Surgeons had to do a fasciotomy, which relieves pressure by cutting the fascia, a thin connective tissue that surrounds the muscles. Afterwards, Shaz had multiple surgeries to try to repair it, but sadly, she lost all muscle mass and use of her arm.
"The arm was screwed and I was in constant pain," says Shaz, who chose to have her arm amputated. "I could've easily spiralled down a different path, so I made the decision to move on with my life.
"I didn't want it dragging me down, so I chose to do something radical and cut the bugger off! It completely changed my life for the better."
When people asked her why she didn't fight to hold the hospital accountable, Shaz said she wanted to move forward.
"I couldn't be bothered and money's not going to bring happiness," says Shaz, who represented New Zealand at the world duathlon championships in Spain two years before her accident. "I could've easily been negative about things, but I always say to turn a negative to a positive."
After losing her arm, Shaz continued to pursue her passion for sport, qualifying for the Tokyo Paralympics but pulling out due to COVID.
Her biggest rock has been her husband of 30 years, Owen, who once helped her convert a church into a café in Sanson, before they opened and sold a thriving coffee cart in Tūrangi.
"Without him, it wouldn't be possible to do a lot of the things I do," she enthuses. "Even though he probably thinks a lot of it is madness!"
Owen was there for her again a couple of years ago when Shaz went for an unrelated blood test and was referred for an ultrasound to check her kidneys. Surprisingly, she learnt she only has one.
"It's just another thing in life'," she quips. "It's hard to push through sometimes because I get extremely tired, but that's when I know it's time to go, 'Back the bus up, Shaz!' I wanted to do Coast to Coast to fundraise for Kidney Kids and support young children on dialysis, as well as to prove that just because we're challenged, it doesn't mean we can't succeed."
When Shaz first entered the race in 2021, organisers said she could do the 70km kayak section in a double kayak with a support person, in case she got into trouble. This time, they agreed to her paddling solo, providing a support person shadows her in another kayak.
Unlike her first event, where she rode a bike with one arm, Shaz has received a socket from the Artificial Limb Centre in Wellington, which goes on her stump and has a claw that fits over a ball on her handlebar. A 3D-printed adaptation has also been designed for Shaz's kayak, the first of its kind in the world, with another socket that fits onto her paddle.
"The only thing with the paddle is that I'm in constant nerve-ending pain with Stumpy, so I don't know if I'll be able to achieve it, but I won't know unless I push myself," she concludes. "I love the challenge of figuring out how I'm going to do something. I have these challenges all day every day and I just flaming love it!"
To donate, search for "Shaz Dagg" at givealittle.co.nz.
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