• A surprised and shocked Wayne Skipworth, of Hastings, found out halfway through conducting his spin class at the IronMaori Gym at Stortford Lodge on Wednesday that he was jetting off to Hawaii in October for the annual Kona Ironman World Championship.
• In doing so, it is believed Skipworth, an IronMaori designer, may have become the first New Zealander to be granted a wild card entry, as one of three to four Ironman global ambassadors, to compete at the mother of all triathlons.
Wayne Skipworth had never competed in an Ironman event until he was 45 but he always knew he had the propensity to tame the gruelling triathlon simply because it is ingrained in his psyche.
Besides, Skipworth hails from a "true-blue West Coasty" Greymouth family line whose X and Y chromosomes have locked in traits that have yielded pedigree sportspeople in the mould of his maternal cousins — the late Quentin Pongia, a former Kiwis rugby league international, brother Brendon Pongia, a former Hawks basketballer, and their half sister, Megan Tahapeehi, a Kiwi Ferns rugby league international.
But what the 56-year-old from Hastings didn't have the foggiest idea on this week was that he was bound for the mother of all triathlons, the annual Kona Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.
That came as a total shock and surprise when Ironman New Zealand representative and commentator Cameron Harper announced — half way through the 6pm spin class Skipworth was conducting at the IronMaori Gym at Stortford Lodge on Wednesday — the merchandiser and fashion designer from Pakipaki was booking his flights as an Ironman global ambassador.
"It was a big, big surprise. I was quite shocked, really," says Skipworth, who will be taking his 11th Ironman in stride when he tries to conquer the 3.84km loop swim out of Kailua Bay, 180.2km bike ride and a 42.2km run on October 13 (NZ time).
"I said, Why me?' It should have been Heather," he had asked Harper, alluding to wife Heather Skipworth who runs the IronMaori Gym as a paid staff member with Lee Grace whose wife Dr Kiri Bird-Grace, a general practitioner, also helps conduct step and spin classes.
Heather, though, knew of the surprise and was part of the orchestrated move to hoodwink him into believing a TV crew and the media were going to be at the gym to cover the impact of IronMaori on the indigenous people of New Zealand.
He got the nod for the world championship because of his work in the background as a merchandiser.
"We've got the same passion so we just love people and try to save them from becoming drug addicts and alcoholics to help them change their whole lives around," he says, revealing Harper suspects Skipworth may be the first global ambassador from New Zealand to receive a wild card entry.
Only three to four global ambassadors are selected to compete at Kona each year because entry to the world championship event comes strictly from the top qualifiers of their respective age groups of the various Ironman staged throughout the globe.
Harper, after the lights had been dimmed and the music toned down, had asked Skipworth if he had been training. The reply was 12 weeks on the general hard-core stuff on strength before Harper had disclosed the trip.
Skipworth was initially resigned to accruing a dozen Ironman events in fours years or so to automatically qualify for the worlds in Kona.
IronMaori, in its 11th year, is the brainchild of Heather and Missy Mackey, and their husbands Wayne and George Mackey, although it has expanded from its original Hawke's Bay home to different locations and mutated into different events.
A former league player, Wayne Skipworth's knees were shot when he took up Ironman so running isn't his forte.
However, while 12 weeks is short notice he'll be fit.
His trusty coach, Kevin Nicholson, of Palmerston North, is an IronMaori ambassador and a veteran of three world championships. He was a multiple age-group winner in more than two decades of Ironman.
Needless to say Skipworth had a sleepless night, his mind performing acrobatic feats from how he will approach the open-water swim to the searing heat of a sweltering summer where the humidity will question one's pedigree.
"My fear is will I be fit enough in 12 weeks' time," he says. "Ironman is 70 per cent upstairs so I knew I was an Ironman even before I was one."
As long as he makes the cut-off time he'll be over the moon because trying to win his age group isn't a motivating factor at all.
"I just want to go there and train smart," says the bloke who did his last Ironman in March this year, stopping the clocking around the 14h 14m mark. His quickest time of 11h 42m was in his second outing.
"Heather did all the shopping so I just took my bike and went around the islands," he says of the event when he was a spectator in 2010.
No doubt he accepts he'll become a billboard for people the couple try to inspire in life-changing situations.
"Big pressure because I'm usually in the background and Heather usually does most of the talking."
Heather will be among whanau, including her sister, Corrine Watson, Dave Parkes and his partner, Kiri Evens, who have expressed a desire to be part of his support crew.
Skipworth sees it as an opportunity of a lifetime because, for all he knows, he may wake up some day to find he can't walk anymore.
"Life is so short, eh, so there's no way I was going to turn it down," says the former Camberley School, Heretaunga Intermediate and Hastings Boys' High School pupil who curtailed his education at 15 to "lie" his way into the shearing sheds for a job.
"I was more an artistic individual so the education system didn't suit me."
The son of Dawn and the late Joseph Skipworth is of Ngati Porou Raukawa (East Coast) iwi. His mother from Hastings is of Scottish/Irish descendant as well. He has lived in Hastings since he was a year old.
Wayne and Heather Skipworth took the Ironman slogan, "Anything Is Possible" , to heart when they crossed the line in 2009 — he in about 13h and she in 15.
"She got the idea from there and asked me if she could use the name [IronMaori] to help people improve their health," he says.
In recognition of the success of IronMaori and its potential to add value to the quality of people's lives, Heather Skipworth received a Blake Leader Award from the Sir Peter Blake Trust in 2011, Triathlon New Zealand's outstanding contribution to triathlon in schools award in 2013, and a Queen's Service Medal (QSM) in the 2014 Queen's Birthday Honours.
The IronMaori, which also has been staged in the Gold Coast in conjunction with the indigenous community of Australia, has mutated into two formats in the Bay — the quarter staged in November and the half in December.
Wayne Skipworth says the inaugural half one started with 300 entries, grew to 700 in the second year, mushroomed to 1900 in the third and now sells out in three to four minutes around the 1600 mark.
The quarter version lures 1800 to 2000 enthusiasts annually.
The organisers have broadened the appeal in including a Tamariki event for 5- to 12-year-olds comprising a 100m swim and 1km run, either in a team of two or as
Rangatahi (13-17 years old) have a 300m swim, 10km cycle and 2km run either in a team of three or as individuals.
Matua (adults aged from 18 upwards) do a 600m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run or can compete in a team 18 years and older kau matua (55+) with the option of a course (600m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run) or short course (300m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run).