Triathlete with Autism Defying Expectations, Training to Complete Ironman World Championship

Tackling an enormous athletic event such as a marathon or triathlon can be extremely daunting. Not only does it demand countless hours of training and physical conditioning, but it requires mental strength as well. That’s where Sam Holness feels he has an edge over his competitors.

Sam is a 27-year-old triathlete from London. He loves to run and swim, holds a degree in Sports Science, and is on the autism spectrum. Sam feels that, despite what assumptions neurotypical people might make, being autistic is his athletic superpower. Due to the way Sam processes information, he is able to remain intently focused for extended periods of time, especially when completing repetitive tasks. This allows him to remain focused and determined while running, swimming, and cycling.

Sam’s father and coach, Anthony Holness, agrees that Sam has an advantage over other athletes. “We’ve had to adapt our training to work with Sam’s autism, but this has been made easier by his single-mindedness,” he explained. Although Sam and his father now see his superpower for what it is, the athletic and sporting community hasn’t always been accepting of Sam’s gift.

Showing talent from a young age, Sam began swimming and fell in love immediately. However, despite his excitement and skill, there was still a disconnect between him and the other athletes. “I always wasn’t encouraged to participate, even when I was one of the best swimmers in my secondary school,” Sam recalled. Teachers and coaches were unsure if Sam could compete alongside his neurotypical peers, and often left him feeling dejected and left out.

Thankfully, despite his experiences growing up, Sam took up running in his late teens, and shortly after, tackled his first triathlon at Dorney Lake. With time between events allowing him to adjust for any issues he faced with his fine motor skills, and his ability to be absorbed by the repetition of the sport, Sam had found the perfect outlet for his athleticism.

He now hopes to become the first triathlete with autism to tackle the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, as well as the first neurodivergent athlete to turn professional. This grueling event will include a 3.8km swim, a 180km cycle, and a full-marathon run, all to be completed within 11 hours.

Sam aspires to continue to pave the way not only for other athletes on the spectrum, but for aspiring Black athletes as well. According to the most recent statistics from the Triathlon Industry Association, “only about 2% of all triathletes are Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic,” resulting in staggering underrepresentation. “Sometimes when I go to an event, I am the only Black triathlete, as well as the only one with autism,” Sam explains. “But it doesn’t matter that it’s just me. I just like racing.”

To follow along as Sam continues his training for the Ironman World Championship, be sure to check out his Instagram page!

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