In January 2014, I participated in my first Ironman 70.3 in East London.
I was fortunate to be guided through this adventure by Raynard Tissink, a legend in our sport.
Ray also happened to be coaching a young Kyle Buckingham.
Kyle and I would not cross paths in training for obvious reasons as my squad was concerned about one thing, to get to the finish in under eight hours and 30 minutes.
This also happened to be Kyle’s first professional race after having been crowned an amateur Age Group World Champion in Kona in 2013.
Back in those days you would be forgiven for thinking Kyle was the only South African racing in the Ironman circuit because of his passionate adoption of our flag on his race suits.
Always creatively executed, the bright colours of the flag seem to fit this guy perfectly and most of us would repost and retweet those images.
As luck would have it, just before Ironman South Africa 2015, Kyle came to one of our track-running sessions at the Oval and I finally got to meet him in person.
Uncharacteristic of a professional athlete, he was and is very approachable and humble, a quality that has earned him so many admirers. It wasn’t until after his 11th placing at Ironman South Africa 2016 when we met at his hotel lobby that I realised how much of a proud Nelson Mandela Bay ambassador this guy was.
He was obviously disappointed with his result, but still very enthusiastic about the future.
It was on this day that he asked that we meet soon so he could offload some of his surplus equipment and gear. Most of these would end up at iMveli. We met in the parking lot at Grass Roof in Port Elizabeth and had a long chat that would eventually lead to Kyle formally taking up his role as an ambassador for Route 67 initially, and eventually all of Nelson Mandela Bay ahead of the Ironman 70.3 World Championship 2018.
For that I credit the leadership at the Mandela Bay Development Agency for trusting my judgment. What transpired on this past Sunday was not by chance; this was a dream nurtured over many years, many challenges and many disappointments.
Through Kyle I got a little glimpse of a professional triathlete’s life.
That these guys and ladies depend on their physical and mental performance on the day to make a living is a scary thought.
It is even scarier for Ironman athletes as potential pay days are often months apart and nothing is guaranteed.
Then you have sponsors who have short-term business objectives. They sometimes pull the plug and move on, leaving a big hole.
When Tim Don won Ironman Brazil in record Ironman finish time, because of the world record hype many people didn’t notice second place, our Kyle Buckingham. I believe the confidence and victory on Sunday was birthed there.
On Sunday when Kyle took the lead I decided to rush back into the humble and bare media centre where only a handful of student volunteers were watching.
I sat there in front of the television not wanting to miss a single moment. I can’t say I was dry-eyed at that moment.
Kyle has inspired Nelson Mandela Bay to believe anything is possible.
This is what happens when companies like Jendamark and the administration of mayor Athol Trollip back a home-grown hero.