Credit: Marcel Hilger

This Sunday, Britain’s Sam Holness became the world’s first openly autistic endurance athlete to complete an Ironman at the Mainova IRONMAN® Frankfurt European Championship triathlon in Frankfurt, Germany.

Sam completed the gruelling event which consists of a 3.8km swim, 180km bike and full marathon in 12 hours and 29 minutes. Sam’s autism has proven to be his “superpower” giving him a hyper focussed approach to his training and racing. It makes him unrelenting and not easily distracted.

Lining up against some of the best athletes in the world, Sam made a confident start in the water with a 1h04m20s swim. Despite suffering from gastric intestinal issues, Sam posted an impressive 6s15m44s for the hilly 180km loop which included 1934m of elevation. Having gone out strong on the bike, Sam was also to pay the price on the run where he also suffered from the heat. Yet Sam pushed through the pain to complete the marathon and make history as the first openly autistic endurance athlete to complete an Ironman.

On finishing Sam said: “This is the greatest day of my life; I am now and Ironman Man! Iron Sam the Triathlete sounds good. I am determined that I will never stop doing this. It was a really tough and hot race – but I kept going even though it hurt a lot.”

29-year-old Sam from London had been preparing for this landmark moment for the last three years, as part of his ultimate goal of becoming the first professional endurance athlete with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

His coach and father, Tony Holness, said: “As a family we are so happy to see Sam become an Ironman. So Proud, we’re the proudest parents in the world today. He swam superbly, and despite challenges on the bike, and the heat on the run but he pushed through so many barriers to get to the finish line. It was fantastic and even the challenges he faced are good preparation and experience for Sam’s as he grows as an athlete.”

Through sport, Sam is challenging stereotypes associated with neurodiversity, while tackling one of the world’s toughest endurance sports. Through this new landmark in triathlon, Sam continues to inspire the autistic community of which there are an estimated 80 million individuals globally. Sam is an ambassador for Britain’s Ambitious about Autism, who, like Sam, are redefining how people think about Autism.

Following the Mainova IRONMAN Frankfurt European Championship, in October 2022, Sam will do another IRONMAN first for an athlete with ASD by competing at the IRONMAN World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Follow Sam’s Journey on Instagram @samholnesstri.