Crossing the finish line after a grueling triathlon is certainly a feat and something to be celebrated, no matter the circumstances. A finisher at the 2021 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Utah has an extra reason to celebrate, though.
Sam Holness, a 27-year-old from the United Kingdom, became the first triathlete who is known to have autism to complete the race. According to his father and coach Tony Holness, Sam accomplished the feat in a time of 5 hours and 44 minutes.
In an Instagram post, Sam said, “I did it, I am the first known autistic #triathlete to compete at the #ironmantri 70.3 #ironmanworldchampionship. Thank you for following me and all of the wonderful people we met in #utah.”
He also told CBS News that he’s proud and can’t wait to get back to training.
His father, meanwhile, was overcome with emotion, saying that this wasn’t something they would have thought was possible a few years ago.
Tony told CBS News, “As a coach, that’s great. As a parent, it’s just amazing. Actually, we sit down and we think: ‘Is it real?'”
Completing the race – which includes a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run – required a lot of training. Sam spent plenty of time in the pool, on a bike, and on runs between 10 and 20 miles. For recovery, he’d tack on naps and yoga.
His former trainer David Blackwood spoke to CNN about Sam’s tenacity and discipline, saying, “I would go beyond saying that he could be equivalent to athletes without physical disabilities. Sam could potentially beat someone without any physical or mental disabilities.”
“He gets on with things and he focuses on the basic tasks at hand. He is relentlessly disciplined in achieving them, and we know that in most sports: repetition, discipline and consistency are the basic fundamental things that will get you most of the way.”
Sam believes his autism has helped him focus on reaching his goals, saying it’s his “superpower.”
He explains, “Every time I do sport, autism has built up my confidence, self-esteem and reduces my stress and I don’t get bored easily.”
He doesn’t have much time to get bored, with his next targets in his sights: The virtual 2021 London Marathon and another Ironman race in Portugal just a few weeks after that. Through it all, Sam and Tony hope Sam’s story inspires others and opens more opportunities for people on the spectrum.
Tony says, “If you can just inspire people and raise the awareness of autism, help employers to start recruiting more people on the spectrum and do it through sport, and that’s narrowing it down to what our mission is and what we want to do.”
To keep up with Sam’s athletic journey and his goal to be the first professional triathlete with autism, follow him on Instagram.Whizzco