Ryan Walkenhorst, Class of 2001
Ryan epitomises the elite athlete who through discipline and persistence has built the commitment, mental strength, and endurance to excel at a world class level in his sport.
The 3.86 km swim had gone incredibly well and having achieved a PB on the 180.25 km bike ride, there was only the 42.2km run leg of the race left to stare down. It was at the 17 km mark of that third gruelling stage, with 25.2 kms to go, that the mental and physical toll of the race literally stopped Ryan in his tracks. It was his fourth full Ironman – the qualification only World Ironman Championship event in Kona, Hawaii – and he suddenly knew he was going to have to pull out something really special to achieve his goal to finish.
Hunched over in the gutter with his hands on his knees and his head between them vomiting, and every muscle quivering with exhaustion and begging to give up, Ryan knew with crystal clarity that he’d have to ask more of the strongest muscle in his body. His mind. “I’m here to finish this race, aren’t I?”, he told himself, “I’ve just got to do what I’ve trained for!” With that, despite his pain, the 33-degree heat and 85% humidity, Ryan gathered up every last measure of resolve, reset, and headed off once again for the finish line. And what a sweet finish it was, crossing with the impressive race time of 10 hrs, 36 mins, a second ahead of the competitor he had met and qualified with in the lead up race in China.
It’s not difficult to imagine an ironman’s battle with exhaustion, but add to it extreme weather conditions, an adjacent bush fire, debilitating cramps and then this – swallowing a bee while cycling! It happened to Ryan, who is mildly allergic to bee stings, during an earlier race at Busselton. Unable to remove the stinger from under his tongue while riding, Ryan rode for 1 km until he reached a traffic controller who was able to pull it out for him. He went on to overcome the effects of the sting, the cramps and the 36-degree heat to complete the marathon and ultimately the Ironman.
By now you’re getting the measure of this humble, goal-driven man. He epitomises the elite athlete who through discipline and persistence has built the commitment, mental strength, and endurance to excel at a world class level in his sport, taking in his stride all that can and does go wrong despite the best possible preparation. It’s nothing short of inspirational.
Speaking of preparation – Ryan’s training regime is another whole inspiring tale.
Not many of us could see ourselves training twice a day most days with 1.5 – 6 hour sessions divided across swim squad, stretching, core work, and bike/run sets. Even Ryan’s rest day involves a light lunchtime swim. All this, mind you, is achieved in his ‘spare time’ while also excelling in his full-time job as an environmental manager and finding the balance that allows him to still enjoy a social life.
Ryan agrees that his passion for the sport, his mindset and training underpin his growing success, but what he says always gives him an edge on race day is his incredible support team; the family and friends, many of whom are Luther mates, who along with their families make the trip to where ever he’s competing. When he’s doing it tough on the course and having those moments of needing to dig especially deep, it’s knowing they’re there for him on the sidelines, at the vantage points and at the finish line that keeps him going. When racing at Port Macquarie, it was the group of over 20 Team Ryan members that made his day!
Ryan attributes his start in triathlon with the invaluable encouragement and support given to him by Luther PE department legends, Rhonda Mallinder and Jack Merx when he was in Years 11 and 12 at the school. It was Rhonda, an Olympic qualifying runner herself, who suggested he give triathlon a go. With great performances under his belt in the 2000 and 2001 Gatorade series, and an interest in the sport well and truly sparked, when football injuries caused Ryan to consider a change of sport in 2015, triathlon was it. The rest, as they say, is history.
Congratulations Ryan on your stellar athletic career so far. You inspire us with your big dreams, your courage and your achievements. Know that all of us at Luther are 100 percent behind you, cheering you on and standing ready to celebrate your training and race outcomes, whatever they are!