If you go

What: 'The Man with the Halo" with Ironman legend Tim Don

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder

Cost: $12-$15

More info: bouldertheater.com

Reaching his utmost fitness peak in October, the fastest-ever Ironman Tim Don was primed to climb the podium at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, when he was struck by a truck while cycling on the on Kaahumanu Highway two days before the race.

Don said the driver, a local highway worker he only knew by the name of Ron, has yet to reach out or admit fault for a crash that crushed the progress of the triathlete's two-decade professional career. Don broke his C2 vertebra in his neck — a hangman's fracture, the doctors called it — usually a death sentence, or an injury that can leave an individual fully paralyzed.

But Don didn't waste his time on anger.

"There's no point of getting angry or pissed off at this guy who changed my life," said Don, a Boulder resident. "I'm a big believer that you control what you can control, so I'm controlling my own situation by putting my energy into recovery."


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A little more than a six months later — and three months of minimal movement with a halo literally screwed into his skull — Don is ready for his next challenge: that same Ironman on that same Hawaiian island where that careless driver derailed his career.

The Boulder Theater screens the documentary "The Man With the Halo" Thursday.
The Boulder Theater screens the documentary "The Man With the Halo" Thursday. (On Running / Courtesy photo)

Swiss running company (and Don's shoe sponsor) On Running, teamed with Emmy-award-winning director Andrew Hinton and created an inspirational short documentary (packed with beautiful Boulder scenery), "The Man with the Halo" tracing his road back to the Ironman. It will have its U.S. premiere in Boulder at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St. Don will be at the screening for a Q&A and "the voice of Ironman" Mike Riley will emcee the event.

In the documentary, Don, who grew up in England, tells viewers his competition bug struck as a child when his need for beating his friends with speed turned into an "obsession" of "trying to be the fastest in the world."

"This is my way of life, I've never had another job," Don said. "Most of my life, I've been able to swim, bike and run for a living."

Citing Ethiopian Olympic star Haile Gebrselassie and his parents as inspiration, the Olympic triathlete dove into Ironman races in 2014. By 2017 he smashed its world record by four minutes at the Brazil competition — making him a favorite for Kona in October — where he didn't have a chance to compete. The Ironman, a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike race followed by a marathon (26.2 miles), is known to be one of the hardest day-long sporting events in the world. Don finished Brazil Ironman in 7:40:23.

"If you can do a 7:40 in an Ironman, your shoes are smoking by the end of that race," Don's manager Franko Vatterott, said in the documentary.

Medieval torture device

"I was just sad for Tim," coach Julie Dibens said in the documentary. "When you're that close to potentially achieving your dream, to have it taken away, you wouldn't wish that on anybody."

Almost immediately after the crash, Don flew back to Colorado and was fitted with a halo — a brace attached to vest that keeps the neck and spine motionless as fractures heal. "Medieval torture device" is what its called it in the documentary: The brace consists of four titanium pins screwed into the head and attached to the skull. For three months, Don suffered through upright sleeping, minimal movement, swelling, oozing and bleeding.

Kelly Don, his wife and a retired professional track athlete, was Don's "unwavering support." She helped wash his hair, shave his face and clean his "oozing" forehead pins. The pair met while training in South Africa and were married in 2009. Don said she "literally did everything for me," and that he couldn't have endured the past six months without her. The Dons have two kids, Matilda, 7, and Hugo, 5. Don said although Hugo was a tad disappointed he couldn't "play rough and tumble" with his dad while he was injured and Matilda, who had brain surgery at 4, was well-versed on doctor visits, they both adapted well.

"We had fun with it," said Don. "This contraption on my head, they wanted to put Christmas lights on it. I'm very lucky, I don't have a 9-to-5 job, so they've always been a real part of my life. The kids are robust and happy. When we had some moments where we had to leave the room to cry, they'd be in the next room laughing and giggling."

The Dons have been living in northeast Boulder for five years.

"It's an endurance mecca here, that's why we moved to Boulder," said Don. "There's 300 days of sun and so many trails. Great runners move here for those reasons."

In January, the halo was removed. With consistent training (nearly the entire time, even with the halo attached) about 15 hours a week, Don would keep fit at Boulder's Rally Sports, where he'd run, swim and cycle. His first foray into competition since the accident was at the Boston Marathon in April. He went in with a goal to finish in less than three hours. Through cold, rain and wind, Don crossed the finish line at 2:49:42 — right on pace with his 2017 Brazil Ironman record (a marathon that was preceded by five hours of cycling and swimming, nonetheless).

Lately, Don said he's been training 20 to 22 hours a week.

"I'm a long ways to compete at the level I want to compete, but I can't think about being the best or I'd go crazy," said Don, who is paring training with rehab and massage work.

He'll complete a half-Ironman in June and a full Ironman in July to qualify for Kona in October. He'll skip Boulder's Ironman this weekend, but said he'll be cheering on the sidelines, as "loads of my friends are racing."

Don said he doesn't have any trepidation being alongside traffic.

"I've broken bones before, nothing serious, I've had crashes and that's the first time a vehicle been involved," said Don. "I'll still ascend down Left Hand and drive through Boulder traffic. I can't be fearful of vehicles — and I'm not being blasé, I'm being practical."

And cool, calm and collected — like he's remained on his feelings of the truck driver.

"If I make it back to Kona and bumped into him what would I do? Would I sock him in the face? I'm not sure, but I can't waste my time wondering," said Don.

Don said he still gets stiff, but his doctor said he has a 90 percent chance of 100 percent recovery — and he's ahead of the curve with therapists and coaches "working around the clock."

"I've been pro athlete since 1997," said Don. "Athletes have to retire at some point, but they have to do it on their own terms. I've got only a couple years left of my career. Maybe I could've won Kona. We'll never know. But I'm doing what I want to do and I want to have one more bite of the cherry. I could fail, but I can at least say I tried. If I don't try, I'll never know."

Christy Fantz: 303-473-1107, fantz@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/fantzypants