Athletics: Proving their mettle takes a will of iron

By Ben Guild

Reigning ten-time New Zealand Ironman champion Cameron Brown may be the face of tomorrow's multisport event in Taupo, but it is competitors like Leanne Willis of Tauranga who will provide the heart.

Willis, an avid mountain biker with no previous endurance racing under her belt, decided to compete after watching a friend complete the Tauranga Half Ironman in January last year.

"It was so buzzy, a bit of a challenge really," said Willis. "I'd never seen anything like it."

With another major milestone just around the corner, she has all the motivation she is likely to need to finish the gruelling course, consisting of a 3.8km swim, 180km road ride and a 42km marathon run, at her first attempt.

"My father died of a heart attack at 50 when I was 13-years-old, so I wanted to be really healthy for my 50th this year.

"The main thing was learning how to swim - I couldn't swim 25m last March."

She swam 3.8km for the first time on the Taupo course three weeks ago - finishing almost an hour ahead of the allowed cut-off time - so is feeling confident ahead of the race's first test.

Willis said husband Gary has given her invaluable support along the way - it was he who sent the entry form on the first possible day - beginning the year-long journey complete with training six days per week.

Willis picked up her race pack yesterday morning and said she was in good shape for the event.

"I've come through injury-free, so I've been really lucky. Many people say the biggest challenge is to line up on the starting line."

Gary, both sons, fellow competitors Diane Hansen and Denys Brock, mentor Jonno Kingsford and both her swimming and pilates instructors will be on hand with bubbly late on Saturday night when Willis aims to finish in a time between 14-15 hours. She hopes to also compete in the Karapiro Half Ironman and the Kaimai Classic later this year.

Tauranga athletes

29 Janine Sax, 140 Sarah Gibby, 148 Natasha Lydiard, 225 Mark Stride, 288 Jay Banner, 325 Mark James, 409 Denys Brock, 411 Cat Conlan, 423 Dianne Lewis, 432 Kathy Miller, 436 Aleta Newton, 452 Debs Williams. 506 Andy Dixon, 530 Adam Hazlett, 564 Stewart Montgomery, 566 Steven Morris, 590 Fraser Sharp, 602 Duncan Tindall, 719 Duane Braithwaite, 853 Aaron Rolls, 892 Graham Webb, 1249 Shane Lye, 1282 Chris Ryan, 1290 Graeme Shanks, 1416 Clyve Cousins.The main thing was learning how to swim - I couldn't swim 25m last March.Leanne Willis, Ironman entrant

- Bay of Plenty Times

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