VETERAN masters ironman and triathlete Michael Besser is preparing for his last international event, the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, this weekend.
After shunning retirement plans at the end of last year, the Sydneysider’s illustrious ironman career will officially come to a close, fittingly against the sport’s most iconic backdrop.
Confirming his swan song from the sport, Besser told The AJN, “I am getting too old to compete at this level and the injuries are starting to accumulate.”
Late last year, Besser entered the WA Ironman at the last minute, and sensationally gained qualification for the Kona Ironman after finishing second in his age group (70-74).
But since that groundbreaking day in Busselton, Besser has encountered numerous challenges in his quest for one last ironman. “The preparation for Kona has been challenging. “In January I suffered a stress fracture of my right ankle and did not run for three months.”
But his fighting spirit and drive for perfection was as profound as it had ever been, as he slugged through months of rehab and training, eventually leading him to the Sunshine Coast Half Ironman six weeks ago, where he picked up a silver medal (70-74).
And now for Besser’s grand finale in Hawaii, which will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original ironman event.
He will be a part of the largest ever international field at an ironman world championship, with an estimated 2500 registered athletes from 82 countries, regions and territories set to tackle the most iconic one-day endurance event in the world.
Besser will be one of 208 Aussies in the field. His triathlon career has taken him all around the world, where he has represented Australia in standard distance, long course, half and full ironman events, including four Maccabiah Games, but this will be his first Kona Ironman.
“I cannot think of a more appropriate time to retire from the sport. It is the pinnacle of any triathlete’s aspiration,” Besser said. “It is an amazing place. To run and bike through the lava fields is like nothing else on the planet and the swim is in beautiful clear ocean with an abundance of tropical fish and dolphins almost within arm’s reach.”
As for his personal goals, they are “to finish within the cut off time and represent Australia, and the Jewish community to the best of my ability. I really just want to finish with a smile, enjoy the race and soak up the incredible atmosphere.”
As beautiful and breathtaking as the 140.6-mile (226km) course will be, Besser will face the ultimate test of body, mind and spirit. Crosswinds will hover around the 70km mark, all while athletes contend with a scorching Hawaiian sun.
Central to the Ironman World Championship is the dedication and courage exhibited by participants who demonstrate the ironman mantra that “Anything Is Possible”.
And despite the forecast extreme conditions, Besser believes he’s prepared for it. “My wife, Anne and I are lucky enough to be able to spend the winter months in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast where it is considerably warmer. Over the years I have also raced in hot, humid places (Israel, Indonesia, Darwin, Queensland and Western Australia) and so have some experience in that regard,” he said.
No ironman can achieve the ultimate alone, especially not for as long as Besser has. His support network and growing family has been a constant inspiration throughout.
Besser said that his wife Anne has been his ironwoman in many ways. “[She has been] an incredible support. I could not have done this without her.”
Both his wife and coach have travelled from different parts of Australia for the race, while his children and 11 grandchildren will continue their strong support from home.
Besser’s ultimate inspiration throughout his career will be front of mind for his last hurrah. “Everyone has a story behind the motivation and determination required to succeed in completing an ironman. Mine is to celebrate my late dear parents, Sara and Wolf, who survived the Holocaust, despite incarceration in Auschwitz. I owe them everything.”
The race will be live streamed on Sunday at 3.35am AEDT via facebook.com/IRONMANnow