There are comebacks, and then there are the type of comeback that Peter Reid made at the 2003 Ironman World Championships. Hauling himself out of the depths, he returned to the sport and took its biggest prize. All of the following photos and text are taken from the book, “30 Years of The Ironman Triathlon World Championship” by Bob Babbitt.
It is early afternoon. Two-time Ironman champion Peter Reid is relaxing in Starbucks. He is wearing his motorcycle leathers and there is powdered sugar on his sleeves and on his chest with a few crumbs clinging to his lips from the treat or three that he was been busy inhaling. If there was a mirror handy he would notice that his belly is bigger than it has been in years.
Check that. His belly is bigger than it’s been… EVER.
Instead of pushing himself through his usual bike routes near his home outside of Victoria, B.C., like he would have been a few short months before, he has spent his retirement weeks flying through his old cycling routes on his motorcycle, his old cycling routes on his motorcycle, his hand on the wide-open throttle and his mind in another world.
Reid first won the Ironman in 1998 on what he called a magical day. He said that it was a trip down Kona’s famed Alii Drive that would stay with him until the day he died.
Two years later he won again, but this time it was different. He crossed the finish line with a 2:09 lead over second place finisher Tim DeBoom. But in Reid’s obsessive mind, winning was nowhere near good enough.
“I won, but I wasn’t satisfied,” Reid admits. “I crossed the line thinking ‘That was too close.’ I didn’t sit back to savor the win. The next day I was already planning my assault for 2001. That was the beginning of the end.”
Shortly after returning to the home he shared with his wife, 1999 Ironman champion Lori Bowden, in British Columbia, he got right back to work and started riding, running and swimming like it was the middle of the next season. By the time he got to his first race, he was totally toasted.
He head dropped out of the 2001 Ironman during the marathon while his friend and former training partner Tim DeBoom won in Kona for the very first time.
Back to the summer of 2002… As Reid sat surrounded by remnants of his fat-laden snack, his good friend and chiropractor Rob Hasegawa approached him. He had watched Reid spiral downhill to the point where he simply couldn’t take it anymore. He had pulled an article from Inside Triathlon Magazine by Mark Allen called ’18 Weeks To Your First Ironman.’ And now he was placing it in front of the two-time Ironman champion and telling him to push the donut aside and get backing the saddle again. He could see his friend was going backwards fast.
“Peter” he said. “Go back to Hawaii to finish the damn thing. Then quit the sport with some closure.”
Over the next 15 weeks he lost 25 pounds but did only five hard, intense workouts: two short triathlons, two hard swim workouts with Olympic triathlon champion Simon Whitfield and one 10K road race. Everything else was slow and steady.”
On race day 2003, he did everything right. He usually comes out of the water between 40th and 50th place. This year he was fourth or fifth onto his bike.
When Chris McCormack, the two-time Ironman Australia champion, caught up he said ‘I thought you were Luke Bell. What are you doing here so early?’
Reid came across the finish line first for the third time in his life. The first time was magical. The second time was torture. The third? While it felt good to win, it felt better to honor those close to him who were rock-solid and never wavered.
“Some people never gave up on me, even when I did,” says Reid.
“I’ll never forget that.”