Du Preez had aspirations of being a professional athlete after representing the national student team as a cyclist and triathlete.
He was paralysed from the chest down, however, when he broke his neck after being hit by a car while training in October 2003.
“I have the same problems as everyone, like getting annoyed when you’re stuck in traffic, but I never have bad days because of the wheelchair,” Du Preez said yesterday.
“I’m a very religious guy and I’ve always been a positive person. It’s about having the right mindset,” he added.
“I think we always have two choices when something bad happens. It’s an opportunity to be great, and it’s about deciding whether I’m going to let this beat me, or whether I’m going to beat it,” he said.
Ten years after the accident, the determined 33-year-old is paving the way in multisport endurance disciplines in the C6 class.
Du Preez became the first quadriplegic athlete to complete an ironman triathlon when he finished the Ironman Western Australia, consisting of a 3.8km swim, 180km ride and 42km run, in December.
He now has his sights set on perhaps the most gruelling of ironman events, the World Championships in Hawaii in October.
“The challenge in an ironman is that you have to be able to make the able-bodied cutoffs, so for my first one I was looking for a flat course,” Du Preez said.
“I’m not able to sweat, so the heat in Hawaii is a concern, but once you’ve achieved something you start thinking of the next barrier, so we thought we’d give it a shot.”
Du Preez’s arm was broken in a training accident six weeks before the Western Australia event, which affected his preparations, and he hopes his finishing time of 13 hours, 24 minutes will gain him entry for the global championships.
An ultra-distance triathlon is an extreme challenge for any athlete, but Du Preez must rely on only his arms, using a form of double backstroke on the swim leg, and modified handcycles and wheelchairs on the cycle and run legs.
Having competed in the men’s T51 100m sprint at the 2012 London Olympics, Du Preez hopes longer distance events will be added to the programme in his class at the 2016 Rio Games, which would give him more of a chance to shine.
“In London they only had sprint events in my class, and it was a great experience, but I’m hoping endurance handcycling events open up.
“I’m strong enough in handcycling to be competitive.”
While Rio forms an integral part of his long-term plans, and he faces an arduous task in Hawaii, Du Preez is satisfied with his accomplishments to date, particularly his performance in Australia.
“Racing for South Africa is always an honour, but I think the ironman was the greatest achievement of my life.”