October 6th 2014
Kona is the next step in a courageous charity fund-raiser for a leading Australian age-grouper.
By Steve Landells
An ambitious bid by Australian Kevin Fergusson to raise $55,000 for Cancer Research steps up a notch in Kona when he tackles the fourth leg of his grueling odyssey to win five IRONMAN races in course record times in the 55-59 age group in a year.
The South Australian – who landed four age-group world titles over different distances in 2009 – has so far lived up to his ambitious goal with victories earlier this year in Melbourne, Port Macquarie and Cairns all in course record times.
The genesis of the bold quest began when he noticed Cancer Council Australia’s emblem of a daffodil had five petals. This got the married father-of-two thinking how his own personal life had been haunted by the number five as his mother had died from cancer on January 5 eight years ago and his father drowned in an accident trying to save a friend aged 55.
Out of this emerged his concept of his “Iron 5 for 55” mission – the chief motivation of which is to raise money to help others fight the killer disease.
“The hope is to raise $55,000,” said Kevin, who celebrated his 55th birthday on the day of the IRONMAN Asia-Pacific Championship Melbourne in March. “Cancer is a horrible thing and to see your mum suffer so badly made me just want to help others. For me, it is not about the course records or the winning – the $55,000 is my main target.”
Among the world’s finest triathletes in his age group, his fourth attempt at Hawaii will be the 21st IRONMAN of his career. Yet if someone would have told the Australian of his future success in the sport when aged in his early 30s he would have thought it scarcely possible.
Back then he was a footie playing, smoker and heavy drinker with no understanding of his latent talent for triathlon.
“Being a commercial diver we stayed in pubs all the time and I was heading down the wrong track,” he says. “But my brother, Grant, who was a smoker as well, persuaded me to do my first triathlon (300m swim, 19km ride and 3km run). I finished in midfield while my brother was dead last. It was the first time I’d ever beaten him at anything, so I thought maybe this is the sport for me. From that point I gave up smoking and started training seriously for triathlon. The sport totally changed my life around. It became my new addiction.”
The commercial diver and outdoor lecturer has, like a fine wine, matured with age. He made his IRONMAN debut in 2004 in Forster, New South Wales and later that year made his maiden Hawaii appearance finishing second in the 45-49 age group. It was a minor miracle he even made the start line in Hawaii after banging his head white water rafting and suffering a terrifying injury three months before his big day. A few days after the accident he woke up paralysed after his C4 and C5 vertebrae in his spine had prolapsed.
“I went to hospital, I was given some morphine and I was completely fine,” he says of his relief at his quick recovery. “The problem was that I was in a neck brace for quite a while and that really hampered my training for Kona.”
Two years later Kevin repeated his second place finish position before in 2009 – competing at the lowest end of the50-54 age group – making it third-time lucky in Kona to take victory.
Since then Kevin has committed to no more than two IRONMAN races a year until setting his ambitious “Iron 5 for 55” goal in 2014. So far the Adelaide-based endurance athlete is on track. After winning his age group in Melbourne back in March in 9:18 he then repeated the feat in Port Macquarie (9:31) and Cairns (9:37). However, with just five weeks separating his second and third IRONMAN of the year, it pushed him to the edge of his physical and mental reserves.
“I was buggered between the two (IRONMAN events) and then race day in Cairns was one of the coldest days on record there and I normally prefer the heat,” he says. “The swim and the bike I could handle, but I remember about 30km into the run was really hard. I was freezing cold and not running too well. My body was saying enough was enough, but I talked myself into finishing.”
Focusing his training this year on higher intensity shorter sessions, he has taken a while to recover from his Cairns experience, but in the past few weeks he has seen an encouraging return to form. In a local duathlon he recorded the fastest bike time by around 10 minutes. The excitement is starting to build for IRONMAN’s greatest challenge.
“What attracts me to Kona is it is one of the toughest races against the very best in the world,” says Kevin, who plans to complete the fifth and final leg of his challenge at SunSmart IRONMAN Western Australia in Busselton on 7 December. “The whole race is a great buzz.”
This year will be a Kona with a difference. He says the emphasis on the lead-up to the race will be focused on speaking to as many people as possible to raise awareness of his charity drive. His fourth crack at the IRONMAN World Championship will be fueled by a different motivation.
“This will be the toughest challenge (of the five). It will hurt, but I just have to go here focused and use all my willpower to give my best race. I’m lucky in that thinking about mum I have an extra incentive to push harder.”