There is an inner force that drives them. All of the more than 5,000 professional athletes and age groups at Ironman Hawaii (October 6 and 8) have a story to tell. Each is impressive and inspiring in its own way. BILD presents three of them.
Lionel Sanders, 34, Canada: The triathlon rock star who almost died
He was standing on a chair in the garage, 21 years old. A belt around the neck, which attaches to the ceiling. Today, 13 years later, in Kailua-Kona, Lionel Sanders sits on the patio of a house facing the Pacific Ocean and says, “I saw no reason to live. Then I started triathlon. And look at me, now I’m here. Ironman changed my life.
The Canadian’s story is one for Hollywood – whether or not he can fulfill his dream of winning Hawaii on Saturday. In 2017 he finished second here behind Patrick Lange, and in May of this year he also finished second at the 2021 World Championships, which were postponed in Utah due to the pandemic.
In Hawaii, he is again a contender for the podium, but not the heavy favorite. Its objective is clear. “I still have a deep fear of this race, but I will give everything to win on Saturday, he assures, even if it destroys me and I have to pay for it in the race, it will have been worth it. I have to try.” A guy of extremes, then and now.
Once a talented runner, Sanders dove into partying in college and couldn’t find his way back. More alcohol, more drugs. More and more. Finally some cocaine. He sank into addiction and depression. As a last resort, he saw the wheelchair and the garage. The shame, he told US media, was too great.
But he did not do it. He got up, also because of his mother, as he said later. Something made him chase after that again, and he set himself a goal: Ironman at St. Louis 2010, his first long distance. “Triathlon,” he says, “is just an expression of deeper things that are going on inside me.” He fought one addiction with another. But healthier.
Sanders is different. His past. his running style. its formation. Everything is unconventional. Fast runners fly on the asphalt, he limps, loses his balance. But he does his thing. And quick. His training for this takes place mostly indoors, on the roller, on the treadmill, in his countercurrent system at home. Many triathletes do the first two things, but not as excessively as Sanders. he needs it And has long since found strong support in his wife Erin. “I’m pretty nervous right now,” he said late in the night in Hawaii. And does not mean racing. “In a little over two weeks, I will be a dad for the first time. We are having a boy. My life is wonderful.
Chris Nikic, 23, USA: From Special Olympics to Ironman, nothing is impossible
There is a hug as a greeting. After sport, this is Chris Nikic’s second great passion: hugging people. Then he said, “I’m actually in Hawaii. The Ironman here is tough, but I feel ready.
In 2020, Nikic achieved what almost no one thought possible: he was the first person with Down syndrome to complete a long-distance triathlon. Now he’s sitting at the breakfast table in an apartment four miles from the start of Ironman Hawaii, has already swum Kailua-Kona Bay this morning and is looking forward to his Thursday start. This sport, along with the performing community, was and is her path to an independent life. “Triathlon, he likes to say, allows me to be like everyone else.
The whole family has come from Boston, and there’s a lot of excitement in the apartment: his father Nik, his grandmother, his sister, other family members, his trainer and guide Dan Grieb – everyone everyone is looking forward to the big day together.
Why triathlon, why sport? “I wanted to meet other people and I have dreams. If I can do an Ironman, I can do everything else,” says Chris Nikic. One of his dreams was to do a long distance. This was followed by the dream of starting in Hawaii. Another was a high school graduate – he did too. Another to have a girlfriend. “This is Adrienne,” Nikic now introduces a young woman here in Hawaii. “She’s my girlfriend, one day we’ll get married.” He radiates.
“I want to be an example for other people with Down syndrome, I want to open doors,” Nikic said. He speaks much more clearly than in an interview two years ago and is easy to understand. “And I want to raise awareness. Anyone who sees people with Down syndrome: don’t look away or walk away. »
His successes, his sports and school dreams are coming true, his self-confidence, his improved cognitive abilities are hard-won. Nikic was born with trisomy 21, a chromosomal disorder, had to undergo several operations on the heart at the age of five months, later also on his ear, and needed a walking aid at the age of three years due to muscle hypotonia. Everything took longer, but finally he got up, then he ran.
But Nikic was an outcast. Bullying was part of his daily life. It broke his parents’ hearts.
Sport has helped everything: physically and mentally. Nikic was nine years old when he first competed in the Special Olympics. “The Special Olympics have been with me since I was little. I played golf and basketball”, he says. Athletics was also one of his passions until he discovered triathlon at the age of 16. But swimming led to ear problems, four operations followed.He was told he could forget about this sport.
A hit for him. From then on, video games dominate his free time. His world only played out inside. The body and the psyche suffered as a result. With a Special Olympics triathlon program and his family, he finally came out of his hole and was at the start of a Special Olympics sprint triathlon in August 2019. Nikic finished last. demotivating? He shakes his head. “Motivating!” Father Nik chimes in: “Special Olympics is great because it gives people like Chris a starting point.” In fact, Chris Nikic wanted to come to the Special Olympics World Games in Germany next year, the trip was firmly on the way. his plan, even if it’s a sprint triathlon. But the triathlon has been removed from the program. He is now coming to Germany for the Berlin Marathon 2023.
He trains three to four hours a day, six days a week, including yoga and strength training. The father estimates that his son has to train five times harder than the others – partly because of reduced muscle tension (muscle hypotonia). However, that didn’t stop Chris Nikic from finishing Ironman Florida in November 2020 in 16:46:09 hours. At his side as a guide: coach Dan Grieb.
The suction ban on the bike course also applies to Nikic – Grieb always drives behind instead of forward. “Look,” Nikic said, pointing to an orange wheel on the wall. “That’s what I roll with.” Not a triathlon bike with an aero seat position, it couldn’t hold it. Also, Nikic is probably the only one in Hawaii (or any other race) without clipless pedals, which provide more efficient power transmission. For safety reasons, however, these pedals are impossible for him to use.
A few days ago, however, nothing was happening on the bike here in Hawaii. The unpredictable winds lived up to their reputation, so Nikic wasn’t the only one having trouble. “The wind scared me,” said the 23-year-old. tears and cessation of training. His face lights up when he thinks about the next day. Because Nikic jumped on his bike again and everything went well.
It’s 5 p.m. Thursday to finally hear the four magic words of triathlon: “You’re an Ironman.” By way of farewell, Chris Nikic said: “See you at the finish line.”
Laura Philipp, 34, Heidelberg
A good ten years ago, Laura Philipp did not dream of Ironman Hawaii. Not even a professional career. And in triathlon for the first time. She couldn’t swim the front crawl either. At that time, she was 24 years old. Now she is a favorite in the Ironman Hawaii pro race. “I’m excited, nervous and very happy to be here,” the Heidelberg native says as he gazes at Alli’i Drive, the legendary road that leads to the Ironman finish line.
His journey can be summed up as follows: Philipp fell in love with Philipp. Philippe Seipp. He did triathlons, which she found fascinating. He, in turn, was happy to have a woman by his side who does not come from this sport. Who sometimes rides a racing bike, sometimes climbs. But then, just for fun, she signed up for a triathlon near her home. And so began their sporting adventure together. “Actually, he wanted to have a girlfriend who has nothing to do with triathlon… It was a bit stupid for him now”, laughs Philipp.
Now they’re together in Hawaii: as a married couple and as a coach-athlete duo. Seipp gave up his teaching job a long time ago and now coaches his wife and other athletes full time. Among others, Sebastian Kienle, Hawaii champion 2014.
And she really couldn’t crawl? “No, I never learned that,” says Laura Philipp. “I also have videos of my debut and it’s extremely funny to see them.” So maybe she’s a gifted talent in all three triathlon disciplines? Philip shakes his head. “I’m certainly not the most talented motorist, but rather proof that you can achieve a lot by working hard and, above all, having fun moving.”
In 2019, on her Hawaiian debut, she finished fourth. And this despite the fact that she had not been able to do running training for a long time due to an injury. It annoyed him nonetheless. “Missing the podium by so little made me want to ask for more,” she said. However, he was missing the Ironman World Championship, which was postponed from October 2021 in Kailua-Kona to May 2022 in St. George (Utah) due to the pandemic: Corona. So now Hawaii.
“There are always times, she says, where you say to yourself, ‘Hey, think about it, it’s pretty crazy how far I’ve come.'” Which proves that courage can pay. In any case, Philipp said: “In fact, there are no limits – we set them ourselves or let society or others set them for us.”