Heinrich Vermaak B3

  • South Africa
  • Born: 1975

In 1980, during my early schooling, I was diagnosed with Stargardts Macular Dystrophy (SMD). I was only 5 years old.

My SMD is due to a genetic fault in both my parents which together causes a mutation in the ABCA4 gene in myself. The fault within this gene causes the build-up of toxins in the retina that then kills the photo receptors in the back of the eye. These photo receptors convert the light that comes into your eye that gets interpreted by your brain and lets you know what you are seeing. Without these cones and rods you can’t see properly.

With my Mom’s encouragement, I attended a regular school. It had its challenges but I excelled in various sports like soccer, athletics, rugby and squash. I achieved numerous sporting awards in soccer and athletics.

I finished school in 1993 with a university entrance where I completed studies in Economic Sciences. I’m 48 years old and an IT developer for the Standard Bank of South Africa. As much as I am a family man with a wife and 2 beautiful children, I’m also a sportsman and will always be active and involved in sport.

Unfortunately, my SMD has progressed significantly over the years. I’m at a point where I have lost a lot of independence with my vision now less than 10%. It was a very difficult time in my life but the birth of my son in 2014 helped me to focus on a new goal of being the best Dad I possibly could. Being a father gives me a lot of joy and purpose in life.

From a young age, I had a massive passion for motorcycles and motocross (MX). When I wasn’t playing sport, you would find me working on a motorcycle or racing around the motocross dirt track near my house. I actively participated in Motocross until the age of 39 when my SMD condition forced me to give up Motocross completely. 

In my last few years of doing Motocross I took up road cycling to keep me fit for MX. In those days I could still cycle independently but within a group to make sure I stayed safe. I completed numerous big races for example the Jo’burg 94.7 in very competitive times. In 2014 I unfortunately started having drastic changes in my eyesight which resulted in me no longer being able to safely cycle on my own. That, however, was not going to stop me. I reached out to people I knew and started cycling on a tandem. This was a great way for me to be active and still be competitive. In 2019 I felt like I needed more and started considering doing triathlons. I was introduced to one of the SA’s visually impaired para triathlon athletes (Gavin Kilpatrick) to understand how it was possible for people in our situation to participate in triathlon.

I competed in my first triathlon with only 6 weeks training and having never done any open water swimming. I survived the event and realised that this multidisciplinary sport had great appeal to me.

When I race triathlons, I need a guide to help me through the swim, cycle and run. It’s not the easiest thing to find a guide that is willing to share your dream, but I think the planets have finally aligned.  At a time in my life when I decided 2023 is going to be the best year in my triathlon experience, I reconnected with an old friend and work colleague, who happens to be a keen sportsman, and was eager to walk a journey with me.

After only a couple of tandem rides together we decided to race in the Ride for Sight cycle event where we stay with the front of the bunch right to the end and finished 3rd in my category and 5th overall. Recently we did the Cape Cycle Tour together and the following weekend we competed in the South Africa Para-triathlon Championship in Port Elizabeth. We placed 2nd and qualified to compete in African Para-Triathlon Championships in Egypt in October this year. 

With everything that has happened to the world and with my eyesight over the last few years, my advice to anyone is:
1. Don’t ever think you can’t do it and;
2. Start as soon as you can

Life is short so do as much as you can!

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Latest Athlete Results
2024 RSA Paratriathlon National Championships
06 Apr, 2024 - PTVI Men - 01:24:01
2023 Africa Triathlon Championships Hurghada
14 Oct, 2023 - PTVI Men - 01:31:57
2023 RSA Paratriathlon National Championships
19 Mar, 2023 - PTVI Men - 01:26:13
2021 RSA Triathlon National Championships
21 Mar, 2021 - PTVI Men - 01:42:00
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Athlete Fact Sheet
Given Name Heinrich
Family Name Vermaak B3
Representing RSA
Para triathlon Class PTVI
Para triathlon Subclass B3
Year of Birth 1975
Place of Birth Johanneburg
World Triathlon Athlete ID 162589
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