Australia’s Pete Jacobs had crossed the finish line on Ali’i Drive to win the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, about eight hours earlier on Saturday, completing the triathlon billed as “world’s toughest one-day sporting event” in 8 hours, 18 minutes, 37 seconds.
About 1,850 of the 2,039 participating athletes had sprinted, skipped, jogged, walked, rolled, staggered or collapsed over the line by 11:30 p.m. when only a precious 30 minutes remained in the 17-hour window to complete the day’s grueling 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile marathon run.
First-time competitor Bonner Paddock, 37, of Newport Coast, was not yet among the finishers.
A hundred of his supporters, many wearing blue, oversized sponge cowboy hats, had wedged themselves into the rowdy, crowded spectators’ chute in the 400 yard-long closing stretch of Ali’i Drive.
His friends at home in Orange County, following the event’s live streaming video and checking for Paddock’s OM Foundation Facebook page updates at 2:30 a.m. Pacific Time, searched for the athlete in Bib. No. 1421 who was attempting to become the first person with cerebral palsy to complete this event.
“He’s close… Keep an eye on the live Web cam” read the most recent OM Foundation Facebook page post.
Event volunteers were tossing freebie Timex hats, Bonk Breaker bars and PowerAde T-shirts into the electric crowd that banged red TYR ThunderStix with a tribal beat, charging the ebony night and urging the last of the competitors through their final yards of the marathon.
In came a 69-year-old woman patting herself on the back as she jogged over the line. Then a 77-year-old Japanese man whose cramping body contorted him into the shape of an upside-down ‘J’ in his closing steps before his collapse into the arms of two medical team workers.
A Canadian police officer with his left leg in a brace limped across. An Australian psychiatrist relished the finish, running back to high five spectators three times before crossing the line, with the John Travolta pose in “Stayin’ Alive.”
Still no Paddock at 11:35 p.m. while the slap-happy public address announcer, Mike Reilly, was draping leis around the late finishers and enthusiastically shouting each name, age, hometown for the crowning pronouncement, “You ARE an Ironman!”
Reilly told the crowd that 82-year-old Lew Hollander, the oldest athlete in the field, and a fireman named Rob, who was completing the marathon in his firefighter’s coat, turnouts and tank, were a mile away.
Then, at 11:38 p.m., without Reilly’s build up, Paddock surprised everyone.
Racing home was a bolting, fist-pumping, high-stepping, finish-line stomping Paddock in his red, skin-tight, sleeveless singlet; red and white-framed Oakley glasses; teal Asics running shoes; and a blue cowboy hat that he had pick up in the final stretch.
“Bonner Paddock, Newport Coast, you are an Ironman! Look out!” shouted Reilly, dodging the charging Paddock, who, panting and smiling and crying, rushed toward a finishing embrace.
He hopped in celebration and relief and pure joy, holding his hat on his head, his upper arms marked black with a sweat-smeared “1421.”
Paddock threw his arms around Greg Welch, the 1994 Ironman World Champion who had trained him for the past 20 months of 1,500 workout hours and 30 lost pounds.
The emotionally spent Paddock buried his head on Welch’s shoulder hard enough to knock off the cowboy hat.
Welch lifted Paddock left hand high as if declaring him a champion.
“Are you happy or what!” Reilly shouted. “There he is. The only man who finished this race with cerebral palsy. Bonner has cerebral palsy. He battles it every day but he just finished Ironman!”
The crowd cheered louder for Paddock who registered in No. 1871 place on the digital board above the line, posting a time of 16 hours, 38 minutes, 35 seconds. He made the window with just 21 minutes to spare.
“One more time for Bonner Paddock,” Reilly urged. “You are an Ironman! Wow.”
NBC will broadcast the 2012 Ironman World Championships on Oct. 27 at 1 p.m.
With cerebral palsy-stricken legs that don’t do an eggbeater kick, Paddock completed the 2.4-mile Pacific Ocean swim in a choppy Kailua Bay in 1:24:51.
With his disability affecting his balance and equilibrium, he pedaled through the hilly, hot and often windless 112-mile bike course along Queen Kaahumanu Highway in 8:00:02.
With his body wearing down, he walked up the hills and jogged the flats through the night and the loneliness of lava fields along the Kohala Coast to survive the 26.2-mile marathon in 6:51:28.
“The stories that come out of Ironman are incredible,” said Welch, who is the sports marketing director for Foothill Ranch-based Oakley. “If this guy gets to the finish line, it will be one of the most talked about finishes of all time.”
Paddock had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2008, becoming the first man with cerebral palsy to summit the world’s largest freestanding peak (19,340 feet). He pressed on through pain and exhaustion, inspired by the children with disabilities who had never known what it was like to take their first step.
He promised the children and families he has gotten to know through United Cerebral Palsy Orange County that he would complete the Ironman.
“We did it! Never quit on your dreams!” he wrote Sunday.
Paddock, a senior vice president for marketing for Young’s Market Company in Tustin, has raised more than $500,000 for his OM Foundation (www.1man1mission.org/donate), which develops early learning centers for children with disabilities and funds organizations including United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County and Light in Africa.
Just before midnight in Hawaii, Paddock again proved he can live a life without limits.
By MARCIA C. SMITH
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Contact the writer: [email protected]