(Video courtesy of Big Island Video News)
Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor
That’s Mr. Iron Mayor to you.
Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi crossed the famed Alii Drive finish line with less than 6 minutes to spare Saturday night and behind 1,981 other triathletes, but he still gets a finishers’ medal, a T-shirt and bragging rights as the first Big Island mayor to be an Ironman.
In his first full-length triathlon at the Ironman World Championship, Kenoi’s time was 16 hours, 54 minutes and 13 seconds, ahead of the dreaded 17-hour cutoff at midnight.
His splits: swim – 1:33.12; bike – 8:38.08; run – 6:15.49.
In his 45-49 age group, the 46-year-old mayor was 227th out of 247. While that finish won’t likely put him in any record books, Kenoi did become the first mayor in the history of the state to finish the race and possibly the first sitting mayor from any state. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson has completed the race three times – 1993, 1997 and 1999 – including twice while he held that office.
Mike Reilly, Ironman’s voice for the ages, had been rallying some 7,000 rowdy spectators crowding the finish line, updating the faithful. With the mayor cutting it so close, Reilly wound up giving updates every minute and the crowd voiced its support.
Kenoi saluted the crowd, hugged his family and was hustled into the medical tent to rehydrate.
He talked to Hawaii 24/7 minutes later as he was bundled up in blankets and towels with medical staff monitoring his vital signs. He looked a little pale and spoke a little more slowly than usual, but was still smiling through severely chapped lips.
“All I can think is that it was so humbling. I had kupuna in their 60s and 70s blowing past me and that was so inspiring. I have nothing but respect for everyone who finished ahead of me,” he said.
“Right now I’m so tired and in so much pain, but I know tomorrow morning when I wake up and kiss my wife, it will be one Iron kiss,” Kenoi said. “It was totally worth it.”
His wife, Takako, was waiting at the finish line with tears in her eyes.
“It is very emotional. He worked so hard for this. He wanted this so much,” she said. “I’m so proud of him. Being mayor is his work, his job. For this, he really had to train hard and he did for months and months.”
Oldest son Liam had a huge smile glued to his face and said while he is pretty proud of his father, he’s not sure he’ll be lining up in any future races.
“I ran along with him on the highway today, but no way I’d do it,” he said.
Son Justin nodded along in agreement.
Daughter Mahina sported a bright pink cast on her ankle due to a volleyball injury and used tip of one of her crutches to spell out ‘Congrats Ironmen’ in the sand just outside the medical tent.
Kenoi caught the triathlon bug six years ago, when in his first year as mayor he shot the canon to start the race. Seventeen hours later, he was still hanging out to congratulate the last finishers. The next year, he bought along his three children to experience the final moments of the world championship.
Since that introduction to triathlon, Kenoi has completed at least three shorter distance triathlons, including the island’s Ironman 70.3 earlier this year. That race made him eligible for Saturday’s race.
Kenoi reportedly lost 40 pounds as he trained for his first Ironman and he did much of that training quietly. Very few people realized he was entered until the race program was issued.
Taking on what is considered one of the world’s toughest endurances races, however, should not have come as a surprise to his constituents.
A cornerstone of Kenoi’s administration has been promoting healthy lifestyles and healthy families.
Once he recovers, Kenoi said, he likely will be adding to his finisher’s medal trophy cabinet by competing in other local races.
No word yet on if he might be tempted to take on the sport’s most prestigious race again.
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