By Ruth Bowerman/Ironman Oceania
The IRONMAN community has bid an emotional farewell to Mike Reilly, the most famous voice in the sport of triathlon, after a storied career spanning 33 years, 33 IRONMAN World Championship events, and a total of 214 IRONMAN events all over the world.
Throughout his career, Reilly’s iconic call of ‘You are an IRONMAN!’ welcomed approximately half a million IRONMAN athletes across the finish line.
Reilly, known as the “Voice of IRONMAN”, officially hung up his microphone on Saturday 10 December as the clock struck midnight at the 2022 Nutri-Grain IRONMAN New Zealand, calling his now iconic four words, ‘You are an IRONMAN!’ to last finisher Ron Skelton, to the cheers of the hundreds of spectators who stayed up late to be at the finish line to witness the celebration.
Skelton was a last finisher befitting of Reilly’s last call, with the 63-year-old himself completing his 35th IRONMAN New Zealand in 16:52:52, just under the 17-hour cut off.
After the 17-hour cut-off rolled over on the stroke of midnight, it was time for Reilly to officially call time on his incredible career. Minutes later, Snow Rameka from Māori iwi Tūwharetoa presented Reilly with a special pounamu and iwi members performed a haka in the finish chute as a final show of respect, thanks, and farewell to the man who has given so much to the endurance industry.
IRONMAN New Zealand was the first IRONMAN outside of the United States that Reilly announced, and it is an event he says is one of his favourites in the world.
“I couldn’t have written the script any better, the passion and the knowledge of New Zealand for IRONMAN, and the love for it, no other place in the world I think displays that as much as this place, so that’s why I wanted to be here,” said Reilly.
Reilly is stepping away from his announcing career to spend more time with his family. Though he knows his decision is the right one, he says he’s going to miss being at finish lines, sharing the camaraderie with his second family; the IRONMAN athletes, supporters, volunteers, and everyone else associated with these events.
“I feel elated, I feel loved, I feel passion and I feel I gave it everything I had for 33 years for the athletes because that’s what it’s all about. I feel it’s time, it’s definitely time, because I wanted to make sure that every time I called someone an IRONMAN it was like the first one, and tonight proved that to me,” he said.
Throughout his last day on the mic, Reilly spoke about what’s kept him going for so many years and why he loves the sport as much today as he did 33 years ago, the people and the challenges they have overcome to make it to an IRONMAN start line.
“I want to say that I’ve seen it right before my very eyes at finish lines all over the world, that truly ‘Anything is Possible,’ it’s not just three words. People have overcome so much to get to an IRONMAN start line and an IRONMAN finish line, and what I say to you, if you think you can, you will. Do it and watch how your life will change for the rest of your life. I can’t wait to see you do it from afar.”
Reilly will always be known as the ‘Voice of IRONMAN’ and for the four words every athlete in the world now hears when they cross an IRONMAN finish line – whether it’s their first time, or in the case of 2022 IRONMAN New Zealand last finisher Ron Skelton, 35 times.
“Mike Reilly is a legend, it’s so cool to have him here,” said Skelton. “Awesome, totally awesome, fulfilment, achievement, I’ve knocked this thing off as they would say. There were lots of people at the finish this year, bit louder, this is the latest finish I’ve ever had – five minutes to spare. I’m getting older and it just hurts more but it’s still just as good.”
Athletes from across New Zealand and all over the world flocked to Taupō to be a part of Reilly’s last call. Wendy Parker flew from Victoria, Australia so she could be called home by Reilly one last time.
“It’s what I came over here for, when I found out this was his last race it was on my bucket list to do that, it’s pretty special. To be honest that’s why I came over here. The weather wasn’t in the brochure but I’m so excited, so, so excited, I’ve ticked that off now,” said Parker.