Before you begin the journey to your first Ironman there are a multitude of reoccurring moments when you are thinking - can I?
By Emma Bishop
From a young age Andrew Venables was mesmerized watching the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii thousands of miles away at home in NSW, Australia. He was certainly hooked by the idea, but didn’t know if he could ever do a triathlon, let alone an Ironman.
Let’s fast forward to 2005, the year Venables (now a husband and father of four) completed his first Ironman at Western Australia. It was the start of a love affair with a sport that created a special bond with his eldest son, Ashton. His goal? Purely to try and inspire his children to see that anything is possible.
The father and son shared a dream to one day go and race Kona together. That dream is now destined to remain forever shelved. Two weeks after Cairns last year, Ashton’s life was tragically taken in a traffic accident.
To outlive his or her child is every parent’s worst nightmare. A heart-wrenching, devastating moment that raises so many questions to which there is no answer. Venables’ six-year-old son Zane now bravely tells dad that he will one day do the Ironman with him, for ‘Ash,’ he says. Those words never fail to raise a smile on his father’s face.
Every Ironman journey you take presents a whole new opportunity to evolve and learn about yourself and your loved ones. It never stops teaching you how to handle the good with the bad and how to be thankful for life. Venables understands this magic more than most. He understood that no matter how difficult it was, life had to go on. He had a wife and three remaining children, Rylee, 22, Kobei, 9 and Zayne 6. They needed him now more than ever.
“Ironman is the only sport I know where you get back exactly what you put into it. It also rewards all the people who take that journey with you. After each finish you are not just fitter, but a person who absolutely appreciates the things we have and who we are.”
Venables will be racing this year in memory of his late son. He recalls a moment from last year’s race when he hit rock bottom and his run had slowed to a walk.
“Ashton came over and wrapped me in his arms, while I admitted to him that my body was unable to handle any more. ‘Kona will be all yours,’ I remember telling him.”
The 18-year-old young man grabbed his father by the shoulders and looked him square in the eyes. "Dad, you cannot stop, you inspire us all by doing this, me, Rylee, Kobes and Zayne - we all think you are amazing for showing us anything is possible. Now get going and I will be waiting at the finish for you - I love you. Carpe diem!”
When such a young life is rudely taken without warning, the gaping hole that loss leaves behind can, at times, seem irreparable. It is indeed a hole that may never be filled and Venables admits his son was the ‘glue’ that held their family together.
“The people in triathlon are simply amazing. When you are struggling they pick you up and support you, when you are moving along well they cheer for you and celebrate with you – not just in racing, but in training and everyday life.”
Venables’ struggle over the past 12 months to cope with his loss and get to the start line has taken a herculean effort. The husband and father who has had to remain strong for his children admits there have been days when he just wanted to curl up in bed and shut the world out. It was a temptation he always managed to resist.
“That finish line will not present itself unless I do the work, so we keep pushing on - I came off my bike pretty badly four weeks ago and have been unable to swim, not the perfect lead in, but it is what it is, right?”
It is not a surprise to know that these days Venables feels closest to his late son when he is on the bike or run. His goal this year is to finish. He admits that just to finish an Ironman even the best can come undone. But he also has a magic number 12 in mind. The time and goal his son Ashton set for him last year.
“Ironman is an amazing sport - it has given me so much strength. I don’t hold much hope (for 12 hours), but I will have a pretty amazing son on course with me all day so anything is possible.”
Just two weeks shy of his 19th birthday when his life was taken, the impact his young life had on his family and those around will be celebrated this week in Cairns where almost 100 people will Race For Ashton through either one of the Cairns festival events or supporting on race day. And, on race day itself, Andrew Venables will toe the start line for his late son and his family who have once again taken this journey with him.
“I still know the exact spot on the course where I saw Ashton alive for the very last time - I can tell you it is exactly 1,563 meters from the finish line at Cairns Ironman. This year I intend to ‘pick him up’ there, and finish with him.”
Ashtons Gift is a Not for Profit Organization that was set up to raise funds to assist kids between the ages of 14-19 to pursue their dreams.
“These kids came up to me at Ashton’s funeral and that’s when I found out my son had been getting old bikes and fixing them up to give to the kids on the street who had nothing. We were completely unaware that he was doing this. Ashton’s Gift is our small way to help continue his legacy,” says Venables. For more information on Ashton’s Gift go to www.ashtonsgift.com.au.
You can track Andrew’s day via our athlete tracker and catch all the action of the professional race live through text updates on race day at ironmanlive.com.