For 13 and a half hours while competing in the Iron Man in Kona, Rob Buren pushed his body to the limit. His arms were throbbing. His lips were sunburned. His body was so dehydrated from the hours in the 40-degree heat that he would spend the night in hospital.
Buren became a household name back in 2007 when he and others competed in the KPMG Invitational Front Street Mile, Buren returned to Bermuda in 2010 to compete in the Bermuda International Race Weekend 10K.
As he approached the finish line in the dark of night in Kona, the cheers from the crowd lining the race course gave him enough of a boost to summon the energy to raise his arms above his head and pump his fists in the air.
Since completing his first Ironman Triathlon (3.8-kilometre Swim; 180-km Bike; 42.2-km Run) in 2013, Buren had set his sights on the sport’s Holy Grail.
When he rolled across the finish line at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, he became the first Canadian paraplegic to complete the grueling race.
“I can’t believe the response I’ve been getting,” Buren said from Hawaii. “I was given a second chance. If what I do inspires someone else to make the most of their life, that makes things worthwhile.”
His time of 13 hours, 30 minutes and 26 seconds earned him a second-place finish in the physically challenged division.
By the time he slipped into the water just after 7 a.m., Buren had already been awake for four hours. He uses a custom wetsuit that buoys his legs, keeping them near the surface.
It was his first ocean swim so he didn’t push the pace. However, the water was so clear, he had to be careful not to be distracted by the tropical fish swimming below him.
Buren called it the most challenging swim he’d ever compeleted, finishing in one hour, 35 minutes and 22 seconds. The biggest challenge to finishing the race lay ahead, though.
Competitors have a time deadline to complete the bike course, otherwise they are pulled from the race before the final leg.
The 180-km course winds along the coast and while it is scenic, competitors are focused on surviving. The course features more than 1,700 metres in elevation changes and strong winds coming off the ocean have actually blown riders off the road.
Buren began the bike course in fourth and slipped back to fifth early on. But he fought the urge to catch his rivals, sticking to the pace he had set for himself. Within 30 kilometres, he’d regained two spots as he began to feel the full extent of the conditions.
“It’s 42 degrees with the humidity and the winds come off the ocean over the lava rocks that have stored up all this heat,” Buren said. “You have 40 km/h winds and it feels like when you open an oven and get that blast of heat on your face.”
Reaching more than 50 km/h on some of the decents bordered on thrilling and terrifying.
Around the 130-km mark, Buren faced a long climb and started feeling the effects of propelling his body forward with nothing but his arms for more than eight hours.
“My biceps were screaming. Your arms aren’t make to do that,” he said. “But you have to tune it out. You have to go somewhere and focus on something else.”
Buren would complete the bike course in 8:15:59 — slower than he hoped, but well ahead of the cutoff for continuing.