KAILUA-KONA — It didn’t just rain on the Ironman Parade of Nations on Tuesday afternoon. It poured.
But even that couldn’t stop the party, as hundreds of energetic athletes from around the globe took to Alii Drive for the annual march, where cowbell served as the international language.
The parade ran from the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel to the Ironman Village at Hale Halawai and gave each nation’s athletes a chance to wave their flags, yell their chants and proudly represent where they’re from before taking on the 140.6-mile Ironman World Championship on Saturday.
“It’s awesome. I think it’s something everyone who does this race should experience,” said Joel Maley, who marched proudly under the Canadian flag. “It’s important to come out here, show off your country colors and be proud. Everyone is having a ton of fun.”
This year’s edition of the Ironman World Championship will welcome the largest international athlete field in race history, with athletes hailing from 82 countries, regions and territories.
Four of those are sending athletes for the first time in American Samoa, Isle of Man, Lithuania and Seychelles.
This year, Europe represents 46 percent of the field, while North America closely follows with 34 percent of athletes registered to race. Asia-Pacific brings eight percent of participants, with South America at seven percent.
The United States is the most represented nation with 640 registered competitors, followed by Germany (215), Australia (208), and the United Kingdom (130). Athletes will travel from 46 U.S. states, with the greatest number coming from California (91), followed by Hawaii (45), Texas (44), Colorado (38), and New York (35).
“It’s so interesting to see all the athletes from around the world — the best of the best,” Maley said. “You can show up in the best shape of your life, but still feel out of shape when you look around.”
Maley is preparing for his sixth Ironman World Championship race, but says that each time feels like a whole new experience.
“It’s never the same,” he said.
It’s the first time in town for Martin Kirwan and Siobhan Kennedy, who wore green and walked with their fellow athletes from Ireland.
“It’s been great,”Kirwan said. “It’s a lifetime ambition to be able to qualify for Kona and now we are here.”
The duo spent nearly a full day on a plane to get to Kona, an excursion in its own right. However, the trip has been worth every second so far, with race day still to come.
“The atmosphere is great, the people are great — everything is top notch,” Kennedy said. “I’m lucky because (Kirwan) is my partner and coach. I’ve got everything I need with me.”
The couple have been in town almost two weeks to acclimate for the event, which will prove valuable on race day. Obstacles like the tough Waikoloa winds and the scorching heat and humidity on Queen Kaahumanu Highway are unique to the world championship.
“We have been out on almost all of the course in different sections,” Kirwan said. “The wind and the humidity will be tough. And it’s hot. This time of year, it’s quite a bit colder in Ireland.”
The parade saved the best for last, with six athletes from the Big Island marching as the race’s home team.
Among them was David Wild, a math teacher at Konawaena High School who can usually be found at the front of the pack when he races on the Big island. However, this will be his first time taking on the Ironman World Championship.
“It seems surreal,” Wild said. “It’s an honor and crazy to think I’m going to be doing it this year.
“People come from all over the world to come to race on our island — where we get to play around and train every day.”
Also part of the Big Island crew was Dan Gampon, a homegrown talent and Kealakehe grad who took on the tall task of the world championship when he was just 18 years old. Now older and wiser, Gampon is appreciating the journey a little more.
“When I was 18, I wanted to take a lot of risks and I really wasn’t humble. I thought I was tough and walked around with a chip on my shoulder,” Gampon said. “This race totally humbled me. It taught me how to respect the challenge and also all the people from around the world who worked so hard get here.”