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Pappas spreads inspiration on his road to Kona

posted Nov 7, 2013, 8:08 PM by Patrick V   [ updated Nov 7, 2013, 8:08 PM ]
Steve Pappas kindly shares his remarkable tale of how he achieved his Impossible Dream, competing and finishing in the Kona/Hawaii Ironman.

My Road to KONA 2013 – Steve Pappas

I was always passionate about sport & loved to compete. However, due to a lack of knowledge & guidance, I injured my legs while training & competing in the 1976 City to Surf Fun Run, which left me with stress fractures in both lower legs as well as Compartment Syndrome in both front calves.

Two operations on my calves just made things worse. For the next 15 years I could only run 3km without stopping – my sporting ambitions were shattered!

Nevertheless, I kept looking for answers & finally found success with deep massage. I could now run again & decided to compete in a short course Triathlon – I was hooked straight away & over the next 7 years I gradually increased the distance until I was able to compete in & finish the 2002 Ironman Australian Triathlon at Forster NSW (3.8k Swim, 180k Bike, 42.2k Run). I never thought I would ever achieve that - so Never say Never !

My ambition now was to try to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, the pinnacle of the sport – But it seemed like the “Impossible Dream” as my times were nowhere near good enough.

I finished 4 Ironmans at Forster (2002-2005) but times were not good enough, being about 2 hrs too slow to qualify.
Then in 2006, while training for Ironman at Port Macquarie NSW, I was hit by a car (hit & run) at high speed while cycling, which left me with a broken hip socket & a broken collar-bone. I had 3 screws placed in my hip & the surgeon said that I wouldn’t be able to run competitively any more.

The support I got from Westies during this time was overwhelming and I am forever grateful – Westies is like a family to me.
Once again, deep massage got me going and I was able to finish the Ironman at Port Macquarie NSW in 2007 and 2008, but the times were still not good enough for Hawaii. Also in 2007, I tried to qualify at the Hawaii 70.3 Triathlon (Half Ironman), but was still not good enough.

In 2009, I went overseas again to try & qualify at Ironman Malaysia – I did an all-time PB but it was still not good enough.
In 2011, I was training for Ironman China, when I had another bad fall off my bike, which left me with a badly broken collar-bone, 5 broken ribs & a frozen shoulder. It took 18 months before I could swim again, even though my collar-bone did not mend & remained detached – The Hawaiian Ironman looked like a lost cause.

Nevertheless, I persisted with training & decided to enter Ironman Cairns, QLD on 9th June 2013. I started the race feeling good & at the end of the Bike leg, as I later found out, I was in 10th Place in my age group. I started the Run & just did the best I could all the way to the finish.
Well, my Run time of 3hr 54min was the fastest run time in my age group (the latter stages in pouring rain), and my Finish time of 11hr 40min was an all-time PB for me. This gave me 4th Place in my age group & there were only 2 qualifying spots for Hawaii. However, the first 2 had already qualified, so the qualifying spots rolled down to 3rd & 4th, so I was in – I had qualified for HAWAII – it was like a fairytale.

Hawaii - the “Impossible Dream” was now there for the taking.

So for the next 3 months I trained solid. My weekly schedule usually involved 2 Core Strength Sessions, 2 Swims, 3 to 5 Bike Sessions and 3 Runs. When training on my indoor bike machine, I would turn the heater on & close the doors (to simulate the conditions in Hawaii). For my two biggest weeks, I spent 27 hrs/wk training.

I arrived in Hawaii 8 days before the Race, and there were several functions to attend during the week including an Australian Team Breakfast, the Parade of Nations, and the Welcome Dinner.

The Australian Team Breakfast early in the week included speeches from previous Australian winners of the race, Greg Welch & Michellie Jones – It was a very special moment, and as the week progressed, it became obvious just how much respect the elite athletes have for the conditions at this Race.

 The forecast for Race Day was for a hot & humid day (30deg) with light winds & high volcanic fog (VOG) levels, & they advised people to stay indoors & avoid exercise – What? - Not likely! However, on Race morning the weather looked perfect & the native drums were beating as we prepared to start, which made it all the more emotional. The ocean was calm with crystal clear water, hundreds of feet deep in some parts. I felt good in the swim but my time was slower than I hoped for. 

The BIKE leg was gruelling. It was hot & humid with the black lava fields on either side of the road & there was a strong headwind for the last 60km of the 180km. After 130km I struggled with the heat. Prior to the Race, I had a desire to finish in under 13 hrs, but at this point my desire switched to just finishing, so I just had to push on - I reminded myself that of all races, this one is not the one you want to NOT FINISH!

The RUN was also hot & humid & I kept throwing ice water over my head – the 13hr target was not looking good. The run continued into the night with long lonely stretches of road in the pitch black. I checked my time after half way and I had improved, so I kept pushing. 

With less than 5k to go, sub-13hr now looked possible so, like Spider has often told me “you should have just pinned your ears back & gone for it”, I skipped the last drink stop & did just that. 

It was a great relief approaching the Town centre in the final stages of the run to the loud cheers of the crowd. My energy levels picked up & I was running well. And just to top it off, I got high fives from our Westies supporters Joan Eiso, Tony, Sharon & Erin Farrell – they were just as excited as I was! The final stretch along the famous Alii Drive was sensational, with the crowd screaming. 

My ultimate sporting dream was about to become a reality & crossing the finish line was the best feeling ever. I then met up with Joan Eiso, Tony, Sharon & Erin Farrell to also cheer home Paul Eiso – another great effort after he had 4 flat tyres. So after a slow start, I was able to pick up 9 places on the bike & a further 18 places on the run to Finish 62nd out of 103 in my age group in a time of 12:49:39 (Swim 1:35, Bike 6:49, Run 4:10). 

This was the hardest thing I have ever done (Paul Eiso felt the same & claims that he left his Bike in Kona as he didn’t want it any more!). However, competing in this event was a great honour, I was happy with my result in those conditions & I really savoured the whole experience. After the race I spent 3 more days in Kona & 1 day at Waikiki Beach (where I had a Long Board Surfing Lesson and a Sunset Cruise on a Catamaran – 2 more of my life goals).

I’d like to say that receiving a trophy at Westies Presentation Night for “Outstanding Individual Performance” was very special & much appreciated as this is not based on winning, but is voted on by the members of the Club. It was also special receiving it from Spider as he has been a huge inspiration to me ever since I joined the Club in 1994, constantly pushing me to improve. 

Many thanks must also go to my coach & mentor, Paul Rohwer, who has helped me heaps for many years. Finally, I had lots of support & good wishes from Westies for this event and I can assure you that it was all very much appreciated. 

Steve Pappas