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The Amazing: IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship, South Africa

Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize winner and the first black President of South Africa.

I am not sure if Nelson Mandela ever saw a triathlon, but some of his now famous words spoken to thousands could all be race day mantras for every triathlete competing this coming weekend.

“I never lose. I either win or learn.”
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
“A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.”
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

Racing is an experience that is completely blind to all the things we might normally use to create a picture of someone. Things like age, size, how they dress, whether they seem happy or not. Racing really doesn’t care about any of that. It’s an open canvas defined by a starting point and an end point. The race then let’s each of us connect those two dots the best way we can, each of us with a signature all our own, all of which are good.
It’s a test of human spirit where everyone’s efforts help all of us be our best. We are all intimately joined together by the universal battle to rise above our weaknesses and find strength. Certainly some are going to be fast and some slow, but neither is good or bad, right or wrong. It’s a way of celebrating our commonness rather than pointing out any differences.
One of those iconic race experiences is going to take place this coming weekend. It’s the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship being held in a place where less than twenty-five years ago this could have never happened. It’ll be the world’s best at all ages coming together at Nelson Mandela Bay in South Africa.
For years athletes from South Africa weren’t allowed to compete in international events. For years athletes from other countries couldn’t race in South Africa because the stamp in their passport would limit where they could compete in the future.

Karen Muir set 15 world records in backstroke over a 5 year period in the late 1960’s but was never allowed to compete with the rest of the world in the Olympics because she was from South Africa.

As a child my sports mind was blind to the reasons for this. I’d read about a South African swimmer named Karen Muir who at age 12 became the youngest person ever to set a world’s record. She was a backstroker. She did that in 1965. In a five year span she set fifteen world records in backstroke. Karen was never allowed to compete in the Olympics because she was from South Africa. Of course the reasons for her international ban are complex, but as a young boy it seemed like a loss for sports.
Since then the world has changed. South Africa  is opening its arms to the us all for what will be an amazing World Championship race. It’s taking place in and around Port Elizabeth on the southern coast of the continent. The swim is in Nelson Mandela Bay, named after South Africa’s first ever black head of state elected in a fully represented democratic election. That took place in 1994.
The task of running countries and securing the needs of all are ongoing in every nation across the globe. Differences in beliefs and perspectives, culture and background can make that quest a clash with no immediate resolution.
But at least for one moment, the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship will be a place where all differences fall aside and every facet of humanity is accepted and joined together with one quest: be your best as an IRONMAN athlete. We will honor the training that’s gone into getting to the start line. We will cheer for everyone throughout the day and shout loud as they cross the finish line.
Every athlete will be living these words, again from Nelson Mandela:

“There is no passion to be found playing small in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”


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