A top South African triathlete is battling to save his legs after assailants cut into his legs with a blunt saw, causing severe injuries, while cycling to training.
Mhlengi Gwala, 27, successfully underwent surgery after the attack which occurred in the early hours of Tuesday morning in the coastal city of Durban, confirmed Dennis Jackson, director of the elite athlete program in KwaZulu-Natal province.
Multiple attackers pulled Gwala from his bicycle as he cycled up a steep hill and sawed into his right calf, damaging muscle, nerves and bone, according to Jackson, who spoke by phone to the triathlete about the ordeal. The assailants missed a main artery and surgeons are confident they can save the leg, Jackson said.
The attackers also started sawing into Gwala’s left leg before fleeing, enabling the athlete to crawl to a road and flag down a passing car to take him to a hospital.
The grisly attack has alarmed athletes in Durban who routinely get up in the early morning darkness to train when few people are on the roads, and there was no immediate explanation for why Gwala was targeted. The athlete had offered his cell phone, wallet and bicycle to the assailants, who still went for his legs and were speaking in a language that Gwala could not understand, Jackson said.
“I have never heard of any enemies that he may have,” he said. “He is a wonderful ambassador for the sport.”
Gwala became an excellent athlete after overcoming drug and alcohol addictions, representing South Africa at international competitions in Chicago in 2015 and in the Netherlands last year, Jackson said. The athlete’s long term goals were to compete in half or whole ironman triathlons. Triathlons feature swimming, cycling and running.
Triathlete Henri Schoeman, who won bronze for South Africa at the Rio Olympics in 2016, denounced the attack on Gwala.
“How safe are we on SA roads?” Schoeman said on Twitter.