There aren’t too many chances for athletes to earn bragging rights for life, but completing the Ironman World Championship is one of them.
At least that was the plan when Naval Officer John Collins and company birthed the idea of the Ironman following an awards banquet in Hawaii in 1977.
That isn’t why one local man is gearing up for the Ironman.
It has been on 55-year old Tim Johnson’s bucket list for 33 years, ever since he saw a special on TV about Collins and the Ironman.
“What drives me is the group of athletes I train with. The social aspect of running, biking and swimming three times a week is fun and we push each other. Without them, there is no way I could get there,” said Johnson.
The race takes place in Kaliua-Kona, on the barren lava fields of Island of Hawaii.
Not just anybody can enter in the Ironman. You need to finish in the top three of your age group in any qualifying race to make it to Hawaii.
When Johnson first dreamt about the race in the 1980s, he knew he wasn’t fit enough.
“I have never been under 200 pounds in my adult life,” said the 6-foot-3 Johnson, who played hockey growing up.
Johnson lives in Oyama, but trains in Vernon; riding, swimming and running three days a week.
“He is very aware of what he needs to get done at any training session to go after and achieve his goal,” said Johnson’s coach Mel Spooner, who won three Ironman races in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.
The Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile run (equivalent to a marathon).
Johnson missed qualifying in 12 different Ironmans over the years. His best finish came in 2007 during the Penticton Iroman, in 11 hours and 42 minutes, missing the ticket to Hawaii by 22 minutes.
Johnson isn’t getting any younger, but the qualifying times keep getting quicker.
Normally a 12-hour athlete, Johnson can finish a race in 11:30 on a good day, but the top times are around 10:50. He needed another way.
The Legacy Lottery was founded in 1983 by Collins as a way to get dedicated athletes who weren’t gifted with speed, into the Ironman.
Athletes entering in the Lottery must have finished 12 previous Ironmans, never quit a race and never competed in a World Championship.
Johnson found out by e-mail, near the end of March, that he had been selected.
“Finally,” sighed Johnson. “It has been the longest outstanding goal of my life.”
Johnson’s wife, Dawn, also races because they both believe in a healthy lifestyle.
“The funny thing is that she could have competed in several Ironmans by now. She is just so laissez-faire and doesn’t care about the formal process,” joked Johnson.
The father of five lost his son Sam 13 years ago and, found exercising as a way to cope.
“I couldn’t get the tragedy out of my head. Exercising was the only thing that helped displace those negative thoughts,” said Johnson.
Only his wife will make the trip to Hawaii. The Johnsons leave on Monday so he can acclimate himself for two weeks before the race.
The race goes Oct. 11 when the monthly average temperature is around 30 degrees C with 70 per cent humidity.
“I have been working with Mel on my hydration. I drink a litre of water every hour,” said Johnson.
The water contains 500-milligrams of sodium to help regulate his electrolytes as he prepares for the intense heat.
Johnson, who makes up the most ground on the bike, says his least favourite part is the swim.
“It is complete insanity,” said Johnson. “The first five minutes of the swim there is 2,500 people around you. It is the most stressful time.”
Inspired by a fellow racer he met a few years back, Johnson will race without his trusty stopwatch.
“This will be the first race I leave my stop watch off at home,” said Johnson. “I really want to take in the experience of racing with athletes, check out the coral fish and just really enjoy it.”