Garth: 72 year old Ironman

"It is so comfortable lying here I do not want to get up". Most people have heard this phrase but not many have heard it from someone lying in the middle of a road in the middle of an afternoon. The location was not in the middle of nowhere, it just seemed that way; 150 km from the start and 30 km from the finish of the cycle leg of Challenge Wanaka an ironman length triathlon in New Zealand.

The listener was the cyclist in the teams section of that event who has had his head down cycling into the headwind and had not noticed that he was catching up on the last of the solo competitors who had started some two hours earlier. "Not noticed" may be an understatement but he certainly noticed the solo competitor's bike when he hit it fair and square in the rear end, sending both of them flying. He picked himself up, ascertained that the other cyclist and bike were in working order, and continued on his way. When you are in a team there is always an unspoken pressure not to keep the next member waiting.

Arriving back in transition the other team members said "Have you had a crash? Why are your legs covered in blood?" He responded "I knocked a fellow competitor off his bike, it was really my fault but the wind was so strong I had my head down following the line at the edge of the road; it never occurred to me I would catch up with anyone. I had never met the guy before but I promised to buy him a beer after the race to make up for it. I think he said his name was Garth."

Oh no, not Garth, how could you have done that! You have just knocked down the oldest individual competitor out there. He is pretty famous here as he featured on television being welcomed at the finish line in Roth Germany by a Maori haka party. He was the oldest finisher there and I believe in any other ironman length triathlon in Europe last season. Worse than that he is a sponsor and sponsors are hard to find."

But we will let that cyclist lying on the road speak for himself. "As I gently moved each limb to see if it was working I felt how comfortable it was lying on the road, far more comfortable than a bike seat when you have been on it for six hours plus. And it was such a relief to be out of that relentless wind. Unfortunately my limbs were O.K.; I would have to continue and there was still that marathon run to be done before I could really rest. But hope springs eternal. I asked if my bike was O.K., did the wheels still spin. Damn it they did. Now I had no excuse not to continue. He helped me back onto my feet. I told him to get on his way; his runner would be waiting; besides I could not really blame him as I had been just as guilty, following the white line under my wheels instead of looking at the road ahead."

Seventy two year old Garth Barfoot did eventually finish, we say eventually because it was 56 minutes after the cut off time that he crossed the finish line, some 17 hours 26 minutes after the gun went off on the shores of Lake Wanaka. The television crew had long gone home; they have their deadlines to meet. But the finish line crowd had different ideas; they stayed even though the fire works had gone off and it was well past midnight.

When he came into sight at the end of the long main street the crowd needed little prompting from the announcer to form a human welcome arch some 50 metres long. The newspaper reporter asked him how he felt. "I feel like a lie down in bed". The next day's paper ran a picture of Garth on the front page with the caption "this man deserves a lie down"

Who would disagree?

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