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“You nervous?” I asked. The sun wasn’t up yet, and Bren had been quietly padding around our hotel room, gathering all the essentials that would get him through the day. Systematically he put each item in its place so it would be within reach when needed.
His bike was leaning against the wall with his sports bag balancing on the saddle. All his required paraphernalia were now inside. Swim cap and goggles were last in as they would be needed first — he already had his speedos on and was wandering around in them. There was just enough light coming through the crack of the bathroom door for him to see what he was doing and for me to make out the muscle definition in his shoulders, back, abs, arms and legs.
I loved his form — he was strong and lean, but mostly I loved how the curve of his high cheekbones met his wide smile when he looked at me.
“What are you looking at?” He said.
“You,” I said as I pulled the doona up under my chin. “Is it cold out there?”
“Nah, not really,”
“Are you nervous?” I asked again.
“Yes I am,” he said, bending down to kiss me on the mouth. “Now get up. We have to be there in 20.”
The crisp April morning was turning into a beautiful clear day as the sun rose. Brendan had been training all year for this race, including the lead up to our wedding and our honeymoon. Commitment was required. I couldn’t calculate the weekly hours dedicated to qualifying — and that ramped up to compete. Suffice to say, it was a lot, and they all had to be a bit crazy to want to do it.
We pulled into a car park, and Bren started unloading his gear.
The party atmosphere in the town of Forster was already building. Its population swelled for this event, as people from all over the world converged to race. Along with their support crews.
I remember clearly a spark of electricity making its way through the crowd like the little silver ball in a pinball machine. I could feel it bouncing off everyone it touched. Bren had to wee for about the 45th time while preparing to take the start line. The beginning of the swim leg was probably the most nerve-racking part of the day — for him anyway, and pre-race hydration and jitters worked his bladder over time.
The sun had hit the river, making it shimmer, and the smell of collective self-doubt and anxiety mixed with excitement and expectation filled the air. The race would start at 7am, only minutes away. Almost one thousand athletes would be racing when the starters horn blared. My husband was one of them, and he looked fierce.
For the professional athletes, the race would be over in around 8 hours. To become an Ironman, officially, all athletes had to finish in 16 and a half hours, from memory.
Those who just made cut off or didn’t get there in time to beat the clock — would receive as big a cheer from the waiting crowd when they crossed the finish line as those who came in first. It was a race for everyone. If you were willing to do the gruelling training and qualified — you raced. And if you raced you earned the respect of all those watching and racing with you, no matter what finish time was recorded.
Bren was competitive but not at the risk of taking the fun out of a race he had dreamt of competing in for years. He and three mates crossed the finish line that day — Mike, Paul and Richard. Bren loved racing in any race these guys were also competing in. It was a good day for Brendan Maloney.
Every time he passed me: after the 3.86 km swim, and several more times during the 180.25km bike ride and 40.20km marathon, he was smiling — big. His happiness was infectious, not necessarily understandable, but definitely infectious.
I made sure I was positioned so he could see me cheering him on and give him a hi-five as he ran ran down the finishers shoot. He spotted me. Exhaustion was consuming a body he was keeping upright through mental strength and physical power — and that was being depleted by the second. Almost collapsing in my arms when he reached me, he kissed me hard and went on to cross the finish line, crying and laughing, at the same time, arms outstretched in victory, as he crossed the line.
As the finishers towel was placed around his shoulders and the medal around his neck, I saw his knees buckle just a little from relief and exhaustion. I had never loved anyone more or been happier for them. I was watching my new husband achieve a dream he had worked hard for. And then I heard the race caller yell out loudly over the speaker system, as he did for everyone who crossed the finish line, “Brendan Maloney, you are an Ironman.“ I cried.
Bren competed again in 2002. Now a two time Australian Ironman finisher, he smashed his own time when he crossed the finish line. He could not imagine another challenge bringing him so much joy. Little did he know the next one was not far off.