By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
His family call him ‘Kona Grandad’. To the rest of us, he’s a legend. Plain but not so simple.
Nothing is easy when you train for races over 226km but it won’t stop Warren Hill, at 82 years young, from becoming the oldest starter at the VinFast IRONMAN World Championships when he lines up in the 80-84 category on early Friday (NZT).
His son Paul Hill is racing Kona again too, in the 50-55 age-group. They’ll set out on the deep water swim start in Kailua-Kona Bay five minutes apart, Warren at 6.25am NZT – precisely an hour after fellow Aucklander Rebecca Clarke, an absolute whippersnapper at age 33, takes the canon in the pro women’s race.
Paul’s wave sets off at 6.35am and thereafter father and son, Kiwi legends both, will face their own internal battles to reach the finish line.
For Warren, it will be his second Kona start. He completed his first IRONMAN at GWM IRONMAN Western Australia in 2017, winning his age-group to qualify for Kona the following year.
But just days away from the start on the Big Island, he crashed his bike into a guard rail while out on a training ride on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway. Paul, out on the same shake-down ride, feared the worst.
“I had a sinking feeling when I saw an ambulance fly past me, and when I caught up to it, I saw his helmet and thought the worst. The ambulance officer said he’s in a bad way and to get to the hospital,” said Paul.
Doctors hurriedly ticked off a catalogue of concerning issues: punctured lungs, a broken hand, several broken ribs, and skin trauma.
“They thought he wouldn’t make it, but they didn’t know dad,” said Paul.
“Dad spent seven days up there trying to heal and he did. I can remember the surgeon saying if he wasn’t so fit it would have been a different outcome. When he got out, he vowed to come back and race which he did – he got a standing ovation that year. Talk about being proud. We now call him Kona Grandad.”
Warren’s Kona entry was transferred to 2019. Though daunted by the enormity of the occasion, Warren claimed the top spot in his 80-84 age-group in 16:38:20. He soaked in race commentator Mike Reilly’s trademark call. “You are an Ironman”. Not only that, he was a World Champion too.
“Dad worked hard all day and to his surprise, finished first in the 80-84 and was the oldest finisher that year,” said Paul. “You should have seen him going down the Ali`i Drive finish chute, I think he thought he was 20 years old again.”
Three years on from his triumph, a successful day for Warren at the 2022 IRONMAN World Championship will be finishing the gruelling 226km course. Even making it to the start line is an enormous achievement.
“I feel so proud of dad for even attempting this race at 80 plus years old,” said Paul.
“It’s always a special day finishing the IRONMAN World Championship, running down the chute, no matter where you place, the feeling is just amazing but so much better when you can share it with your dad, family and friends.”