In the world of sports, we tend to see faster, stronger or more perfectly executed as the valued currency. But sometimes the simplest of things are what we are really looking for.
Yes, completing an IRONMAN has impact. It’s a big thing. Crossing the finish line with clear and visible challenges has an impact. That’s an even bigger thing. But in 2015 John Maclean showed us that the biggest thing of all can be witnessed in what could be considered to be the simplest of ways: he walked. Here’s why that simple feat had so much significance.
In 1988 John Maclean was a 22-year old professional football player who happened to love triathlons. On just another ride he’d done endless times before he was struck by an eight ton truck. The impact resulted in John suffering multiple breaks to his pelvis and his back. The accident fractured his sternum, punctured his lungs and broke an arm. John, in an instant became a paraplegic.
What that meant to John Maclean was very different than the living death sentence that news would have meant to most others.
John took it as the supreme challenge to wash away every obstacle being a paraplegic should mean. He took it as the ultimate opportunity to show that it was not a limitation. He would prove that by crossing the finish line at the IRONMAN World Championship.
Seven years later he amazingly did complete the race, finishing before midnight. But John was outside the able-body bike cut-off time so it was not official. That was not good enough for him..
Two years later in 1997 he completed the course under all the official cut-off times to become the first ever wheelchair category winner. That in itself is so beyond worthy of being acknowledged. But John Maclean is a Top-40 Greatest Moment for what he did eight years later.
At the 2015 E’ Komo Mai Welcome Banquet that opens every IROMAN World Championship race, John Maclean was invited to come up on stage and speak.
What happened next was one of the greatest moments in IRONMAN history.
There was not a dry eye anywhere. The 13 steps he took from his wheelchair to the center of the stage showcased the strength of the human spirit.
He’d completed the IRONMAN as a paraplegic. Now he’d done the impossible once again by doing the simplest of things: he walked. Here is what John had to say about that moment:
“Talk about the highs and lows of life. I spent 26 years in a wheelchair, after being hit by a truck in 1988. Returning to sport as a wheelchair athlete I set my sights on being the first wheelchair athlete to complete Kona. It took three attempts, but I achieved this in 1997. That is for sure my greatest sporting achievement.”
“t that evening in 2015 in Kona was another level. I’d been invited to Kona to speak at the Opening Banquet. I had learned to walk, albeit tentatively, a year or so before. Like everything about IRONMAN there are no guarantees of the outcome. I was nervous because I knew I was going to walk on stage in front of thousands.”
“I wheeled up the ramp to the stage. Then I stood, leaving the safety of my wheelchair. Making my way to center stage was it. It was unforgettable. Each step was an effort, but the reward –not falling over and receiving a standing ovation– moved me to tears”
IRONMAN has countless great moments. Some are personal, some are public. Most are great heights achieved and challenges overcome. Some have been the lowest of moments where the ultimate frailty capable of humbling any one of us has laid raw the unrelenting force pursuing the big dreams can expose.
There is no guarantee in this game. IRONMAN simply begs you to try, to go beyond anything you’ve done before and solidify something underneath that could never come out by sitting on the couch.
When John Maclean made it his mission to complete the IRONMAN World Championship as a paraplegic there was no contract or agreement in the world that would give him any compensation for his situation. He had to earn it. And that he did.
But he didn’t stop there. He brought it full circle. Walking is the first big step every person on this planet takes as an infant. John had to take those first steps for the second time in his life as an adult. And he did it as the next step after finishing an IRONMAN.
Crossing the finish line in Kona is as big as it gets in sports. It’s available to all who want to try, who are willing to pursue and persist. But it’s using those lessons learned to focus how you take the next steps in life beyond it that make being an IRONMAN such an amazing first part of the journey!
I hope you have enjoyed these 40-Greatest Moments.
Each is personal to me because I was there for them. This one is the last. I have not ranked them in terms of importance simply because every one has had impact. But I’ve saved this one for last because it brings the IRONMAN experience full circle.
It’s about times and placings and horrendous conditions fought through. It’s about the swims in front of thousands at the pier in the days leading up to the race. But ultimately it’s about you and the Island of Hawaii on race day. It’s inviting. It’s intimidating. But it’s never anything short of one of the greatest Saturdays you could spend anywhere!
To learn more about what John Maclean is doing now click HERE.
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I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.