Six First Nations athletes aim to inspire at IRONMAN Australia

1 May 2024

Photo Credit: Anthony Smith

A world-first program will see six First Nations athletes take on the iconic IRONMAN Australia in Port Macquarie this Sunday 5 May.

The IRONMOB Program, developed by TRIMOB, a pioneering First Nations organisation dedicated to empowering its community through triathlon, has been working with the group over more than a year to prepare them to take on the 3.8km swim, 180km ride and 42.2km run.

The six athletes, Robert Briggs, Leisa Leon, Raymond Landers, Bobby Maher, Koorinya Moreton and Oliver Whiteley, are hoping to join a small group of Australian First Nations athletes to have completed an IRONMAN, with just 13 known to have achieved the feat before.

The program has been developed by TRIMOB founder Nat Heath, himself a multiple-time IRONMAN competitor, including taking on the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawai’i.

“When I initially established TRIMOB in 2020 it was to encourage more First Nations people to participate in triathlon and provide an opportunity for Australians who love to swim, bike and run to connect and celebrate First Nations people and cultures through findings of shared commonality,” Heath said.

“However, I wanted to do something that I thought would be more powerful and create a program that could empower First Nations people by completing the hardest one-day event possible. At TRIMOB our aim is improve the overall health outcomes of First Nations peoples, whilst bringing ‘deadliness’ to triathlon and the world. 

“Through our research we know of only 13 First Nations people to do an IRONMAN triathlon which is a huge underrepresentation. I wanted to set about changing this and in the process it would inspire other First Nations people to join the TRIMOB community.

“I’m just really proud of the six IRONMOB athletes to get to this point. The hardest thing is being committed and dedicated enough to get to the start line and be physically and mentally ready to take on such a challenge. The IRONMAN event itself whilst it will be one of the hardest things our athletes will ever do is the fun part.”

All six IRONMOB athletes have overcome numerous challenges to get themselves to the start line in Port Macquarie with Heath commending them on their commitment.

“I have seen the growth in each individual, not only physically but mentally as well. Each of them has overcome multiple obstacles just to get to this point. Physically looking through their health data, the improvements to physical fitness is incredible, as First Nations people our life expectancy if well over 10 years less with Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes being among the biggest illnesses that lead to poor health outcomes. It is clear when looking at their data that they have all each had massive improvements in their physical fitness, which will decrease their likelihood of suffering from such diseases,” Heath said. 

Sunday is set to be an emotional day for those not only taking on the 226km challenge on the race course but those who have supported them in their journey.

“It’s going to mean a lot. I have been fortunate to be participating in triathlons since 2011 and did my first IRONMAN in 2013. I always felt a little different in that I didn’t see other First Nations people but I was always selfishly obsessed with my own goals. I have had the opportunity to qualify and compete at the 2015 IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, but to me this is a far bigger achievement,” Heath said.

“To be a part of creating real change for my people but also the sport of triathlon and IRONMAN, is something that I am really proud of. But this is also just the start, I’m focused with TRIMOB to continually push what is possible for our people, Australia and the sport. We will create an avenue where we will see over 1,000 First Nations people participating in triathlon based events, we will have First Nations people representing Australia and we won’t just have 13 First Nations people having done an IRONMAN triathlon we will have hundreds.”

For Koorinya Moreton Sunday is the culmination of over 18 months of hard work.

“The IRONMOB project has been truly empowering for me. Throughout the project, we’ve been able to connect with mob, on-country to train, race and really push ourselves. IRONMOB has encouraged me to push the boundaries to redefine what I believe I am capable of,” she said.

“Each experience has increased my confidence, encouraging me to continuously challenge myself by taking risks, helping me to become a much stronger person, both physically and mentally.

“I’ve also been able to witness the flow on effects of the project within the broader First Nations communities. It’s been a privilege to be able to connect with other First Nations triathletes, and for us to collectively be able to inspire First Nations people to get involved in triathlon and consider how they can start to prioritise their health and wellbeing.

“I’m a very different person to who I was 12-18 months ago, in the most positive way possible. Thanks to the IRONMOB project, I have a greater sense of purpose and belonging. I’m forever grateful and appreciative of the experiences and opportunities the project has provided me.”

Bobby Maher heads into IRONMAN Australia knowing that the hard work and sacrifices from the group throughout the program will give them the best chance at success and that they have the opportunity to inspire many within their community.

“I feel very proud, and grateful for the experience and the opportunity,” Maher said.

“Being a part of the program makes me feel proud to showcase First Nations people as strong, resilient and capable people. I want to support other mob to participate, have fun in the sport, connect with others and see what their potential may be. We have really great allies in our ambassadors and supporters, and it’s great to have their support in getting behind us and really embracing our culture and the deadliness that we have to offer.

“Crossing the finish line will be a proud moment to celebrate the hard work and commitment in seeing something big through to the finish. It will also mean that there are six more First Nations people to have completed an IRONMAN, which is huge.

“I hope it inspires family and other mob to try new things, get into triathlon, be a part of a great community like TRIMOB and to dream big.”

Like the rest of the group what actually happens to the mind and body during an IRONMAN is set to be a new experience for Robert Briggs, but one he’s ready to tackle head on.

“It’s hard to know what will happen, I consider myself an old leather boot tough I guess and DNF is not an option,” said Briggs. “I love the atmosphere of triathlon and IRONMAN having raced several IRONMAN 70.3s on the TRIMOB journey. Each event is special and has an amazing vibe and the people are all great people, I really love the sport.

“The time and effort it takes to do the training is enormous, but I feel amazing. A lot of the people in my father’s country in Gumbaynggirr country and family and community in my mother’s country, which is Yuin country know what I am about to do.

“My daughter, son and nieces and nephews are all behind me and TRIMOB along with all the communities that that I’m a part of are all watching this space. TRIMOB is a big deal in First Nations communities where I’m from and I have no doubt it is the same around Australia. A lot of our young people want to be involved because they see the way we carry ourselves and how fit and deadly we look in our kits.”

Sunday’s event will be the 37th running of IRONMAN Australia, with athletes heading from across Australia and around the world to take on the iconic event, culminating with the famous IRONMAN finish line on Port Macquarie’s Town Green.

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