When Sam Holness crossed the finish line of the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St. George, Utah on Saturday, he became the first known autistic triathlete to compete in one of the sport’s flagship races.
The 27-year-old British triathlete, who has autism spectrum disorder, has been training for over a year at this time. The race consists of a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride, and a 13.1 mile run.
Sam did this while also encountering rain, lightning, and even a sandstorm. The gravity of what has been accomplished is not lost on him.
“I feel very proud,” he said in an interview with CBS News Wednesday, with his father and trainer, Tony. “I’m happy and can’t wait to get back to training.”
Tony said that seeing his son “safe” was all that mattered to his family. Both of Sam’s parents were overcome with emotion and cried when they saw him finish.
“I think sometimes it’s better to race than sit on the sidelines watching it,” Tony said. “Because once he’s gone on the cycle, it’s just that we have no control at all.”
Sam finished the race in 5 hours and 44 minutes and competed with some of the best in his age group, Tony said.
“As a coach it’s great. As a parent it’s just amazing,” said Tony, who left his job to help Sam prepare for the competition. “We actually sit down and say, ‘Is this real?'”
Ahead of Saturday’s event, training days were spent swimming, cycling and 10- to 20-mile runs, Tony said. To help recharge and recover, Sam would take naps and end a work day with yoga. Sam’s interest in triathlon training and his university degree in sports science was part of the motivation that drove him to take up the sport.
“Two years ago we weren’t even dreaming about it,” Tony said.
The father-son duo is far from over. Sam aims to be the first professional triathlete with autism and will virtually compete in the London Marathon on October 3, followed by another Ironman race in Portugal on October 24. Their goal is to continue to inspire others.
“If you can just inspire people and raise awareness about autism, help employers start recruiting more people on the spectrum and doing it through sport, and that comes down to our mission and what we want to do. “Tony said. .