A 56-year-old Limerick grandmother of six has secured her place in the World Ironman Championships in Hawaii after competing a gruelling challenge in Austria this week.
Joan Griffin, from Monaleen, was the only local podium winner on the day, winning her age group with a time of just under 13 hours.
The local ‘Ironwoman’, des-cribed as “a legend” in the field of Irish triathlons, was also ahead of her own husband, Dr Mick Griffin, 61, who finished nearly three hours after her.
However, the superfit doctor was unperturbed, running the final 10km with his two daughters “smiling and singing” all the way to the finish line. “It was a spiritually humbling experience”, he said after the race.
Daughter Ciara Murphy joked that her mother will have to be in her sixties before she is able to beat her in a race, and said she’s often delighted if she finishes a few minutes behind her mum.
One of the founding members of the Limerick Triathlon Club in 1985, who spent 10 years on the Irish team, she is regarded by fellow members as “the mammy of the club”.
“She is often seen before a race helping others with their bikes, and then she’s the one over-taking them in the race, and people are left gobsmacked,” said a club member.
Joan, a qualified physical therapist, completed the triathlon in a total of 12:51:40 - faster than other Irish women 20 years younger who took part.
It was also the first Ironman challenge for Simona Coppola, 38, of the Italian restaurant on O’Connell Street, La Piccola, who finished it in 13 hours and 16 minutes.
The first Irishman to complete the triathlon was Mike O’Brien, 31, from Newcastle West. He was stunned to finish in a time of 9:37:51, ranking him 53rd overall in the competition out of 2,500 athletes, and securing his place in Hawaii after his very first Ironman challenge.
He also plans to celebrate his honeymoon there after his wedding to fiancee Ciara Fitzgerald just days before the event.
“My aim wasn’t to qualify to get through to the world championships but that’s the way it worked out on the day,” joked the auctioneer.
“I had no set goal, just to get through it on the day, but I’m absolutely thrilled. I won’t be going to Hawaii with any aims, just to enjoy the experience and learn from it,” he said.
Overall, 38 of Limerick’s top athletes began their challenge in temperatures of 40 degrees plus with a 4km swim, followed by a 180km cycle and then a 26 mile run. Ger Shire, 33, from Limerick, received a huge ovation when was the final Ironman to cross the line after 16 hours and 52 minutes, and was presented with a bouquet flowers at the stroke of midnight.
The swim proved much tougher for many competitors as they only learned the day before the event that they couldn’t wear wetsuits, which has an effect on their time.
The Limerick Triathlon Club said they are “immensely proud” of their six female and 32 male triathletes who successfully competed for Ironman glory, after six months of hard training.
Many of the athletes who took part have trained for years with Limerick fitness coach, Chris Delooze, who said it was the “most emotional weekend I’ve ever had as a coach” after seeing some of the participants cross the line. He said for some people it was “possibly the greatest day of their lives” after completing this “monster achievement”.