As a first-year college student at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ont.), Vancouver-based Connor Emeny was a dabbler. He played a little hockey, tried some of the social clubs, and otherwise immersed himself in the endless and wide-ranging smorgasbord of social and sports activities that’s the hallmark of most first-year students, unsure of what they want to do, and who they want to be.
He and a couple of buddies thought triathlon might be fun, so they tried out for the team, and Emeny made it. And just like almost every other triathlete, Emeny knew he’d found his tribe. He loved being around people who knew what they wanted to do and set out to accomplish it. And he loved the physical and mental challenge of endurance sports, even though he had no background in triathlon specifically.
When fellow Queen’s University tri-teammate Ben Rudson finished 14th in his age group at the Ironman World Championship in 2016, Emeny set his sights on completing an full-distance race himself. Rudson’s work ethic also resonated with Emeny. In an interview, Rudson said, “If you just keep plugging away and do the right things – train hard, work hard, work smart – you can accomplish really great feats in the sport.”
That’s when then-25-year-old Emeny went all in, pledging to do a full Ironman by 2020. He’d been working as an account rep for Uber after graduation, and when he set his sights on Ironman New Zealand in March 2020, Emeny got himself transferred to Uber’s scooter-based division, Jump, in New Zealand, even though he knew no one there. Emeny worked 5am to 1pm moving scooters around Aukland, then trained in the afternoons. He didn’t have a coach; instead he searched YouTube for tips on swimming, biking, and running long-distance races. He gave himself six months to totally commit to his Ironman goal. He didn’t quite know at that time that another larger goal would soon preoccupy his mind.
He had a great time finishing IMNZ, which ended up being one of the last major triathlons before the sporting world shut down due to COVID. He moved back to Canada just as “novel coronavirus” and “social distancing” made themselves part of our new vocabulary.
All In … Times Six
Back in Canada on COVID lockdown, Emeny and his brother agreed to crew for John Pockler’s successful record-setting attempt for the fastest known time on the 890km Bruce Trail. Emeny was blown away by the adventure, watching Pockler run 16 hours a day for more than nine days to accomplish not only the physical feat, but the mental one too. The seed had been planted: Enemy wanted to try for a record of his own. The current record for the youngest person to complete an Ironman race on six continents was then-32-year-old Jackie Faye. Connor Emeny would challenge that record, aiming to complete the six events at age 26.
On his 18-month odyssey to six continents, Emeny dealt with cancelled/postponed races, cancelled flights, a two-week quarantine in a hotel due to a positive COVID test, a missing bike, and crazy weather.
We spoke to Emeny the day after he completed his sixth Ironman race in South America, Ironman Brazil, in May.
TMC: It’s barely been 24 hours since completing this massive goal. How do you feel?
Connor Emeny: I’m a bit overwhelmed. So many people have reached out to me, both people I know and people I don’t know. It’s been so touching. I know I’ll be processing this for a while. After finishing yesterday, I just sat on the ground watching other people finish. Many of them burst into tears, and I got emotional watching them. It’s a shared “all in” mentality and human connection that happens in such a short period of time. It’s incredible.
How will accomplishing this goal change the way you approach your life going forward?
It’s one of those things I’m going to look back on my whole life and take lessons from. It’s opened my eyes that anything is possible if you’re dedicated, dream big, and put people around you that champion you to do it. This has raised my threshold of what’s achievable and I now feel I can achieve anything, in any element of my life, not just physical.
Talk about the travel. That can be so stressful for triathletes, and you did it to six continents.
I was lucky enough to have seen some of the world prior to this, and it’s always been where I’ve found the most enriching experiences. It’s not just on a movie screen – it’s going to places in real life and seeing how big the world is. But honestly, the travel logistics were more difficult than the racing.
Ironman races are expensive, and the associated travel even more so. How did you make this work financially?
I self-funded all of this. I’ve basically worked full time this whole time. I’ve worked odd jobs. I worked for Uber, then in New Zealand for Jump. I’ve done some marketing for a kombucha company, a running retailer, and for an adventure race company. I did a lot of couch surfing. In the last 18 months I’ve lived in nine places. But the memories and opportunities from accomplishing this goal have been worth it.
Sometimes people talk themselves out of a big goal before they even try. What’s your advice for them?
Dream big but also celebrate the small goals along the way. People surprise themselves when they do hard things, and that’s really where all the growth is, and where you learn about yourself in those dark times when it gets tough.
So, what’s next?
I’m moving back to Toronto for a while, and I’ll take some time to read, write and reflect on everything, and appreciate the work I put in and the sacrifices I’ve made. And I want to share this time with all the people that helped me along the way. I’ve also been in talks with some companies and partners to race in Antarctica. One person has done an Ironman there, but I’d be the first to do an Ironman-distance race on all 7 continents.
This story first appeared in the July issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada.