BRIAN and Kathy Burke will be glued to their computer on Sunday intently watching a live streaming performance of their 34-year-old daughter Melanie in the toughest challenge of her life.

The Wanganui born and raised athlete is competing in the World Ironman Triathlon Championship in the searing heat of Kona, Hawaii.

Mother Kathy said from her Delhi Ave home yesterday that Melanie had already been in Hawaii for a week acclimatising and was feeling sharp ahead of her gruelling challenge on Sunday.

"We email each other every day and she's been telling me just how hot it is there at the moment. She's been out running to help acclimatise and the actual event takes them past the active volcano three times - Melanie said the ground gets really hot on that part of the circuit," Kathy said yesterday.


Burke is in the professional race, having qualified among the top 38-ranked pros in the world. Two things to note about that are she isn't a professional - she is a full-time power company "billing specialist" who fits more than 20 hours' training a week around work - and the other is that until a few years ago, she could barely swim.

While those factors probably make her unique among the field, it is only a tiny bit of what makes her story remarkable, inspirational and exhausting.

Choose a word to sum her up and it would be "undefeated". It is an attitude as much as results on a score card, though her achievements speak for themselves.

Burke has been either a national champion or New Zealand representative in rowing, road running, cycling, duathlon and Ironman triathlon. She was invited to trial for the Olympics in rowing and in 2009 became World Long-Course Duathlon Champ, a shock result for the Europeans, not least for the seven-time champion and favourite, Erika Csomor from Hungary. Known as the Powerman Zofingen, it is over a hilly course of a 10km run, 150km bike and 30km run and is rated alongside the Hawaii Ironman in terms of difficulty. Burke put the opposition away on the bike leg.

Her friends call her "The Tractor" and that's hardly surprising. She's as stubborn as she was growing up here in Wanganui, according to her mum.

"She's stubborn all right. When she was young, going to Churton School, she was the sprint champion and also won the cross country held at our farm each year. She's still on the honours board. In fact, they just ran the annual cross country here about a month ago - it's still going," Kathy said.

"Melanie lived here in Wanganui until she was 21 then she moved to Auckland with her boyfriend. When she went to Wanganui Girls' College that's when she fell in love with rowing.

"The triathlon is a difficult event because she still struggles in the swim legs and is usually out of the water 10 minutes after the leading bunch and that makes it hard to catch up. She is very strong on the bike, though. A podium finish is always her aim and she will certainly try.

"I don't think the race is live on TV, but we can watch it online and that's what Brian and I will be doing on Sunday," she said.