The inspiring Sam Holness recently became the first openly autistic athlete to complete Kona at the Ironman World Championships.
The London-born 29-year-old completed a Hawaiian triathlon event that included a 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42.2km full marathon in 13:05:44.
Sam uses his sporting achievements to change the perception of autism. His father and coach Tony sports voiceof Matthew Chadder Share your journey so far.
MC: What inspired you to start participating in triathlons?
TH: Life expectancy for people with autism in the UK is 54 years. We made the decision early on that we needed Sam to be as healthy as possible in order to give him the best chance of his life.
In 2019 we went to Portugal and he did the first half Ironman. He asked him what he wanted to do and he said he wanted to continue doing triathlons. Since then we have just moved forward.
It turns out that with autism, he is very good at repetitive tasks and wants to master things, not just do them.
What we understand about sports is that to become an elite athlete, you need to master it over and over again. It’s pretty easy for him because you have to train the same things to get better.
As an athlete, he never complains about his training. That’s one of his reasons for doing this. It’s something he enjoys and he wants to be the best player he can be. We just encourage and nurture it.
How is your training structured?
He trains full-time up to 25 hours a week. May include swimming 20km, cycling around 500km and conditioning two days a week. Over the winter he’ll probably be running about 80k a week. Quite intense.
How does Sam stay motivated?
His motive is very simple. He’s focused, has work to do, and doesn’t give up. All top athletes have that kind of dedication and determination.
I didn’t have to instill it in him. For him it’s like playing a game and maxing it out. Sam’s motivation is that this is his job and he wants to do the best he can.
What was the decision to take over full-time coaching and how was that decision made?
It was probably the easiest and best decision I ever made in my life. I drive him up and down, inspect his kit, work with sponsors and do all that kind of work for him so he can focus on his sport.
How did your recent tournament in Hawaii compare to other tournaments?
Sam: I had to contend with the sultry weather when I was swimming and the waves were very choppy.
Utah had more rain, wind, thunder, and sandstorms, and Utah was more undulating than Kona, Hawaii.
Frankfurt was in the countryside with many rolling hills
Hawaii was the toughest competition for me because I had to fight through. Utah was my favorite.
Crossing the finish line is exciting.
What does the future look like and where do you want to go next?
The next two years will be two years of transformation. There are probably 5 or 6 race choices. The next big race is his 70.3 World Championship in Finland. Everything we do is against neurotypical athletes.
The journey is about how to turn what is perceived as an obstacle or a disadvantage into an advantage for him.We are doing it because Sam won’t quit.He doesn’t.
He will crawl across the line. Many athletes don’t want to wake up in the morning and go out. Sam is always there.
Sam’s goal is to become an elite triathlete. This is a white male sport, not as diverse as it should be, but a very positive community. It’s not because people aren’t capable. You can’t win this race and you can’t do anything if you don’t have the right bike and the right kit.
In addition to physical fitness, you also need the right kit for triathlon: a wetsuit and running shoes.
For the entire disabled community out there, it’s a different world out there. It may not be a sport, but you have to find and nurture the secrets your child has. It is also about changing the perception of people with autism.