By Kent Gray/Triathlon.kiwi
Matt Kerr is still hobbling around on crutches almost a week after the fact but knows he got lucky. The painful road rash and various other bumps and scrapes will buff out soon enough.
The emotional toll of the Coromandel age-grouper’s traumatic Ironman World Championship debut? That’s another matter altogether.
Kerr has recounted the chilling moment he collided with an elderly female pedestrian at an estimated 65km/h during Sunday’s race in Kona. The 30-year-old was tucked in on his aero bars just 2km from T2, starting to mentally rehearse the looming transition and how he was going to mow down the two runners ahead of him in defence of the overall age-group world title he had snared at the Utah Ironman World Championships in May.
Then, at high speed but in what seemed like slow-mo, Kerr ploughed into the unwitting pensioner.
“I was just off the main highway, off the Queen K in almost an industrial area on a slight decent, going pretty fast on the bars in aero when I saw this lady step off the footpath,” Kerr says taking up the story.
“I came off the aero bars and started yelling I guess, thinking she’d stop and I’d be able to squeeze through on the line I’m holding. There wasn’t enough room for me to manoeuvre but I’m thinking she’s going to hear me, I’m just yelling and yelling but there was no response, she was fixated on crossing the road.”
What happened next was terrifying mangle of human flesh and carbon. In the moment, Kerr’s emotions ran wild as he tried to comprehend what had just happened, that his race was over.
“There was anger, pretty much race done and then I lifted my head and saw her on the ground and it grounded me. She looked dead to me, there was blood everywhere and no movement,” Kerr continued.
“She coped 100 percent of the impact.”
Fortunately, local police patrolling the crowds at a nearby intersection rushed to the aid of the pedestrian and medics were soon on site to transfer the woman to hospital.
“I still don’t know what the outcome is with her,” Kerr revealed. “I believe she was in her late 60s or 70s which doesn’t make you feel great…but it happened and it was out of my control.”
While bloodied, bruised and shaken, Kerr made the decision to finish the race, hobbling home in 10:17:35 for an inconsequential 188th place finish out of 346 in the 30-34 age-group. The marathon was a physical and emotional grind from the get-go, finally completed in 4:04:37.
“One of the worse bits was walking out of transition [for the marathon], there’s blood and the crowds and everyone’s charging past and my family and friends were waiting up the road. It was a pretty emotional first 12km I can tell you, next level,” Kerr said.
“It was a massive emotional toll carrying on but I’ve got some reasons why I did carry on. I didn’t feel any obligation but I had my family there, my coach [Prof. Grant Scholfield] and my coach’s family and I didn’t want to pull the pin and at 12pm be sitting and thinking did I have the physical capacity to do this.”
Kerr’s initial reaction immediately after the race was to get out of dodge but he’s pleased now that he didn’t abandon planned post-race breaks in Honolulu and Los Angeles with partner Nivana. It’s allowed him time to compute how a split second can ruin the best-laid plans, how unfair it is and, ultimately, how lucky he was to escape relatively unscathed.
Bad swelling has affected mobility in his right ankle but he’s thankful X-rays at hospital the morning after the race didn’t find anything more serious. Kerr is still in a hurry to get back to New Zealand after packing up his temporary base on the Sunshine Coast and thereafter will start plotting his next move.
He still intends to transition to the pro-life although isn’t sure of when he’ll race next. Ironman Western Australia in Busselton on December 4 appeals given the unused training miles in the tank although he could just as easily aim for Ironman New Zealand in March.
“Physically I’m kind of recovered but emotionally I guess I’m still working through not getting the result we wanted.
“That’s probably the hardest thing to swallow, it was totally out of my control. But the process of what you put into it, specifically for this race, it’s not redundant knowledge. I can’t use the fitness again but the learnings, that’s what I’m trying to hang on to.
“It’s frustrating I wasn’t able to use all the experiments we’d worked on in training [including a five-week block in Maui with Kiwi pro Braden Currie], all the strategies, thousands of little things you could have worked into the race given whatever scenario is thrown at you.
“That’s quite a hard thing to swallow but it’s not necessarily what happens, it’s about your response.”
With Kerr, you can be sure his response will be calculated, his prep for the next race meticulous, as is his trademark. The desire to finish and finish fast? That will be next level.