Ironman athlete does the miles for smiles

Port Elizabeth’s Michelle Mortimer is going the extra mile by competing in this year’s Ironman to put smiles on children’s faces.

This is the second year Michelle will be competing in the gruelling race for the Smile Foundation, a South African non-governmental organisation which helps children in need of surgery for treatable facial anomalies such as cleft lip, cleft palate, nose and ear conditions, facial paralysis (Moebius Syndrome), burn wounds and craniofacial abnormalities.

Michelle’s journey to Ironman started a few years ago without her even realising it. “My journey started when I decided I needed to lose weight and improve my health.

“At the time I didn’t realise it would one day lead to doing Ironman, it was just a matter of starting something. In 2011, I was tipping the scales at just over 144kg. From there it was a steady progression, every year I would challenge myself to meet a new target and take part in an event I never previously thought I was capable of doing.

“Way back when… a 5km bike ride was a major accomplishment. So each victory along the way was savoured. In 2015 it was the first time I took on the BEEG race Ironman.

“I decided to enter to challenge myself, to see just how far I had come and to show that anything is indeed possible with enough motivation, a solid support structure and belief in yourself.

Training for the Ironman is not for sissies and according to Michelle, it takes up a lot of your time.

“Training for Ironman is long and methodical. It’s all about consistency. I started in September with my Tri club ‘Aspire #LiveFit’.

“The first part is just building an endurance base and getting ready for the 70.3 in East London as it is a good training day out. From East London, it’s roughly 10 weeks out to the big day. Focused on following the programme my coach has set out before me and trusting that it will get me to where I want to be.

“Ironman takes a lot of time to train for. It can feel incredibly selfish at times, all about me the athlete and what I need to do to prepare. One does not get to contribute back to society as much as you could if you were not training.

“There are so many good causes out there that need attention brought to them. And if the long hours I spend on the bike, swimming and running can help bring attention to those that need it, that goes a long way to helping me feel I’m making a difference. Even if it is a small one, on those long selfish hours I am out training.”

And it is all worth it for Michelle when thousands of people come out to support the athletes on the day.

“My favourite part of the event is seeing all my family and friends and complete strangers coming together on the side of a long lonely road to cheer and keep everyone moving forward.

“It’s incredible how a complete stranger yelling your name can help you take that next step towards the end of what is a truly long and mentally exhausting day.”

Time is not that important to Michelle, she just wants to have some fun and make a difference.

“The course has changed a bit since the last time I did it in 2015, so have had to adjust my expectations a bit. If all goes right on the day I’m hoping for 15hr30 roughly. But Ironman is Ironman and absolutely anything can happen on the day, so I do my best not to focus on times. Just keep moving to you hit the red carpet.

“On the big day, just pitch and support… all the athletes from near and far. You have no idea how much they will appreciate it, especially into the long dark night. From my charity perspective, I’m still collecting donation and all amounts are welcome: there really is no such thing as too small an amount, every bit counts.”

So when you see Michelle putting in those miles for smiles on Sunday, give her a cheer.

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