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Inspiration in action: Age-group competitors proving “Anything is Possible” at the Ironman World Championship

Some of the amazing stories to follow at the two Ironman World Championship races this week

Photo by: Ironman

When it comes to the Ironman World Championship, each and every athlete in the field has an incredible story. Just making it to the Big Island of Hawaii is a journey. But every year there are a few athletes who take that to a new level, and with 5,000 athletes competing in Kona this week, this year’s race features even more amazing stories. Here are a few of those to follow (including the incredible Lauren Parker, pictured above) as reported by Ironman:

  • Omorkanov Aivaz (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan) – Omorkanov is the youngest ever Vice-president and Council Member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), a Kyrgyz triathlete, National Triathlon Champion, National Duathlon Champion and National Aquathlon Champion. Omorkanov is also the first athlete from Kyrgyzstan to qualify for Ironman World Championship and will proudly be waving the Kyrgyzstan flag.
  • Sebastien Bellin (Belgium) – Sebastien is a Brazilian born, former professional basketball player that played for the Belgian National basketball team. Bellin played professional basketball from 2010 to 2015. In 2016, Bellin was seriously injured in the Brussels Bombing. He spent four months in hospital care and had over a dozen operations from the suicide bombings. Now six years later, Bellin has become a hero after the attacks because of his bounce back and positivity he’s shared with the community. Bellin resolved not to see himself as a victim but as a survivor. He wants to continue to overcome his new physical ailments and inspire and encourage others.

Related: Kona like we’ve never seen it before

  • Dallas Clark (Livermore, Iowa, USA) – Former tight end Dallas Clark picked up triathlon as a hobby after playing 11 seasons in the NFL. Clark played for the Indianapolis Colts where he was part of the Super Bowl XLI winning team, before also playing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens. Now he’s taking on one of the biggest challenges of his life racing the 2022 Ironman World Championship in Kona. Clark’s goal includes racing as an Ironman Foundation athlete while also raising $2 Million for Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis and the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
Sam Holness
  • Sam Holness (Kingston Vale, London, England) – Also known as Super Sam, Holness has his sights set on becoming the first openly Autistic professional triathlete. The 27-year-old athlete trains like every other elite competitor, swimming, running and cycling roughly 12-16 hours per week. His focus and never-give-up attitude are key characteristics that set him apart as a competitor. In June, Holness became the world’s first openly autistic endurance athlete to complete a full-distance triathlon at Ironman European Championship Frankfurt.
  • Tony Kanaan (Indianapolis, Ind., USA/ Salvador, Brazil) – Fan favorite, Kanaan is an IndyCar Champion. Winner of the 2004 NTT IndyCar Series championship, and in 2013 Indianapolis 500, Kanaan is considered one of the nicest, funniest guys on the IndyCar circuit racing today. Seen as an Ironman of IndyCar racing, when Kanaan is not behind the wheel, he is an avid triathlete. He credits triathlon training for his ability to stay in shape for driving. Outside of racing, Kannan does a lot of charitable work that benefits underprivileged children in Brazil.
  • Ryan Kinder (Nashville, Tenn., USA) – Singer, songwriter, guitarist and up-and-coming country artist Ryan Kinder is a heartfelt performer with a bent toward soulful country and pop. In addition to his music career, Kinder is training for the 2022 VinFast World Championship, in which he’s participating in honor of a friend who died of cancer. In 2018, Kinder was training for an Ironman 70.3 triathlon with his close friend, Kyle Wagley, who was an Apache pilot in the Army. Sadly, Kyle was diagnosed with cancer and passed away in 2017 before having the chance to compete. Since Kyle’s passing, Ryan has raced in triathlons, marathons and other competitions in Kyle’s honor—he will carry on the tradition this year at the VinFast Ironman World Championship. He and his wife, former Tennessee Titans Cheerleader are the co-founders of Kinder’s Kids, which delivers toys to children affected by national disasters.
  • Noel Mulkey (Tulsa, Okla., USA) –Mulkey, a Tulsa, Oklahoma native, will tell you he is a former overweight drug addict who found a love for triathlon and turned his life around because of it. Playing soccer and swimming to escape bullying in middle school, Noel struggled to find an outlet to channel the pain and frustration he experienced while in high school. At his worst, he would regularly spend $500 a day on heroin until checking into a clinic with the support of his family to begin a much-desired recovery. In an effort to lose the weight gained after replacing his substance urges with food, Noel made the decision to lose the weight and begin a living a healthier lifestyle. He took up running, even averaging 60 to 70 miles a week which led to the decision to mix it up with swimming and biking. Discovering triathlon, Noel had turned his life around for the better racing multiple Ironman 70.3 events, qualifying for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship and even finishing his first full-distance Ironman triathlon in Panama City Beach in the fall of 2020. Always open to sharing his experience, Noel continues to document his day-to-day training on social media. After the pandemic hit, he picked up TikTok even amassing over 1.4 million followers while sharing his training routine which often includes waking up at 3:30 a.m., setting off on 60-mile indoor bike rides and four-mile runs — accomplishing all before noon each day. Noel won his age group at the inaugural edition of Ironman Tulsa triathlon in 2021 and earned his slot to race at the 2022 Ironman World Championship.
  • Chris Nikic (Maitland, Fla., USA) – Chris is a full of life, 22-year-old who made history when he became the first person with Down syndrome to complete a full-distance Ironman triathlon when he finished the Ironman Florida triathlon in November of 2020 earning a Guinness World Record in the process. Living by his mantra, 1% Better Each Day, is something that drives this ambitious young athlete. Through the support of his parents, coaches, TriClub and community, Chris has set his mindset to always get 1% better at something, even if it takes him longer. Throughout his training and completion of Ironman Florida, Chris continues to inspire others to follow in his footsteps. Spreading his message to others in the Down syndrome community to be 1% better every single day in every aspect of life, Chris might be the first, but he certainly hopes that he will not be the last. Outside of triathlon, Chris also works on his career in public speaking. He speaks on the habit of getting 1% better each day in order to achieve your goals. Chris is using triathlon and Ironman training as a path to independent living. Chris, along with his guide, fellow triathlete and friend Dan Grieb, are prepared to undertake his next big challenge in Kona.
  • Skye Ombac (Hilo, Hawai`i, USA) – Growing up on the Big Island of Hawai`i, Skye’s parents would always drive her to Kona to watch the Ironman World Championship. Inspired by years of watching the race in her own backyard, she believed in her heart that one day that she was going to get her chance to compete in the iconic triathlon. Fast forward to 2021 where she competed in her first triathlon, Ironman 70.3 Hawai`i, where she earned her a slot for the IRONMAN World Championship. A 5th grade teacher in Hilo, Skye can’t wait to represent the Big Island and accomplish a goal she has had since she was a young kid when she toes the start line of the IRONMAN World Championship this October.
  • Lauren Parker (Newcastle, Australia) – In early April 2017, Australian triathlete Lauren Parker was at the peak of her career. After finishing second in her age group in the 2015 IRONMAN World Championship, the 28-year-old triathlete was training for 35 hours a week, intending to make the podium at Ironman Australia.  A life altering bike crash changed everything. Parker has since received life-changing help from organizations such as the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation (CAF) in getting back to the sport and into her new sport of paratriathlon. Parker’s transition to adapted sport was one of the quickest the ITU has on record. Nine months after the accident, she finished second at the 2018 St. Kilda OUT Paratriathlon Oceania Championships and has since achieved the following accolades: 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medalist, 2018 ITU World Paratriathlon bronze medalist and 2019 ITU World Paratriathlon champion. Only several months after an impressive Paralympic silver medal performance at the 2020 Games in Tokyo, she completed the 2021 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship. In May, Parker became only the third female in the handcycle division to finish the IRONMAN World Championship. She now heads to Hawai`i, ready to compete to compete in the IRONMAN World Championship for the first time sense her accident, continue to make history and inspire the world.
  • Jessica Parker-Edwards(Birmingham, UK) – Jessica is a medical student who has just started her final year of medical school at Cardiff University. During her third year, she went on placement for 10 weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic, spending every day in the hospital with patients unable to see family or friends. During this time, Jessica reached a severe low point. Mentally and physically exhausted, she began to lose a lot of weight and became very unhealthy, eventually leading to a diagnosis of Anorexia. This was what she needed to finally begin the road to recovery, and she decided to sign up for Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire as a goal to help her regain weight and become ‘strong not skinny’. Prior to September 2021 she had never run, and only got her first road bike that December. This dream turned into racing an Ironman. Following a broken arm, torn Achilles and hip problems during training, Jessica managed to not only complete Ironman Bolton 2022, but come first in her age category (20-24). Jessica hopes that her story will be an inspiration for others who may be living with similar eating disorders, and she has set up a fundraising page to raise money for Beat, Eating Disorder Charity.
  • Emily Thompson (Superior, Colo., USA) – Only several months before their wedding, Emily Thompson and her fiancé Stefan Kienle lost most of their possessions in the now infamous Marshall fire, the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history. The fire destroyed their home and many others in their home of Louisville, Colo. Despite this the loss of priceless family heirlooms, personal belongings, and the home they had bought and build their relationship around, the couple have grown closer and come to appreciate what truly matters in their life. The recent newlyweds, who met over a shared interest in endurance events, will travel to Kona to see Emily take on her dream of competing in the Ironman World Championship.
  • Corrie Weikle (Juneau, Alaska, USA) – Corrie is dynamic and exudes a positive personality with a passion for triathlon and the Ironman mission and values. Corrie resides in Juneau, Alaska, and spends her 9-5 coaching C-level executives on managing stress. She credits training for IRONMAN triathlons with helping her guide other people in doing hard things. While her training certainly benefits others, she finds that Ironman has helped her work through some intergenerational trauma and hardships in her lifetime. Corrie is one of 12 local Alaskan athletes who qualified for the Ironman World Championship at Ironman Alaska, part of the VinFast Ironman U.S. Series.