TRI247
Search
shop

Breaking barriers: Sam Holness and his trailblazing path to Kona

Britain's Sam Holness is poised to become the first openly autistic athlete to compete at the IMWC in Kona

Staff Reporter
Last updated -
SHOP

This weekend, Sam Holness is set to become the very first openly autistic athlete to compete at the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

The London based athlete, who is coached by his father Tony, will face his biggest challenge yet as he prepares to complete one of the hardest IRONMAN races in the world.

Advertisement

The road to Kona

Sam, or ‘Super Sam’ as he’s often referred to, has had his sights set on competing at the IRONMAN World Championships for some time. After competing at the 2021 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in Utah, Holness went on to complete his first IRONMAN distance event at IRONMAN Frankfurt this year, which doubled as the IRONMAN European Championships.

Sam Holness IRONMAN Frankfurt 2022
Britain’s Sam Holness finishes IRONMAN Frankfurt 2022 (Credit: Marcel Hilger)

At 29 years old and having raced his first triathlon in 2016, both Sam and his Dad acknowledge that he is a late arrival to the sport, but are keen to emphasise that this is not a deterrent to Sam’s aspirations.

Father and coach Tony said: “I’ve been told too often that Sam has the odds stacked against him as he started the sport late, but I have the opposite perspective and think although he had his first IRONMAN this year, he has the physiology of a twenty year old because his body hasn’t suffered from the rigours of triathlon training from the ages of 10-11”.

Sam also shares his father’s positive perspective on the matter, stating that “whilst I came to the sport very late”, he still has big goals, including “winning a major race by 2025”, with Kona offering a great opportunity to “race alongside and learn from the very best”.

In preparation for the race, Sam has been banking some big volume weeks, with his training schedule meaning that for up to 24 hours a week, he is either in the pool, on the bike or out on the run.

Sam’s attitude towards training and racing, which his coach describes as “focused, determined and driven” means he’s often “the first at training and the last to leave”, hasn’t gone unnoticed by some of the leading brands in the sport of triathlon. Heading into Kona, Sam has the backing of a number of sponsors, including Hoka running shoes, Cervelo bicycles, Stages Cycling and British brands HUUB wetsuits and clothing and SunGod sunglasses, as well as British men’s skin care brand Man Cave.

The support of these brands, combined with the backing of his parents and coach Tony, could be the perfect combination for Sam as he tries to realise his dream of becoming the first professional triathlete with autism.

Father and son team

Whilst the journey of the father-son team to Kona hasn’t always been easy, coach Tony feels his initial hopes for his son as a parent carried over to his aspirations for Sam as a coach. Speaking about the family’s outlook on raising a son with autism, Tony said that “we always knew that we could nurture him and find his gift”.

Tony emphasizes that Sam is “an amazing athlete and an amazing person”, and as parents he and his wife Marilyn felt like they “needed to crack the autistic code and find his gift”, which in turn led the family to triathlon.

Tony did initially feel some apprehension in coaching Sam, admitting that “sometimes I question my ability to coach Sam as I don’t have a background in coaching”, but now draws strength from the success of other father-son coaching relationships, such as the one shared by professional triathlete Sam Laidlow and his father.

The Frenchman, who will also be competing in Kona, shares a similar philosophy on the coach/father role as Tony, with the latter saying “I think Sam Laidlow said it best in one of his interviews that, whilst his Dad might not be the best coach, his Dad is the best coach for him”.

Sam Holness IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship 2021 Medal
Sam Holness with his parents after the IRONMAN 70.3 2021 World Championships in St George, Utah (Patrick McDermott, Getty Images for IRONMAN).

Ahead of Saturday’s race, Tony perfectly summarised what the occasion means for the whole Holness family, stating that “coming into Kona, it’s the biggest race of his life and as a coach it’s the biggest race of my life”. However the race goes, both Tony and Sam are sure of one thing, that “the journey has been amazing”.

Avatar
Written by
Tomos Land
Tomos Land is a triathlon & running journalist whose expertise lies in the professional world of short course & long distance triathlon, though he also boasts an extensive knowledge of ultra-running.

THE SBRX Show

In episode 1 of our new SBRX Show we sit down with ultra runners and coaches Kim and Jayson Cavill to get their take on the Barkley Marathons and triathlon & trail running gear reviews, training tips and more
Discover more
Sumarpo vanguard vs Zone 3 Vanquish X triathlon wetsuits
ZONE3 Vanquish X wetsuit vs Sumarpo Vanguard wetsuit – how do these triathlon wetsuits match up?
Essential Beginner's Triathlon Gear & KIt
Triathlon gear for beginners: essential kit for getting started
open water swimming Sumarpo wetsuit
How to improve swimming endurance – PRO tips to help you swim further in open water
sumarpo triathlon swimming wetsuit
Wetsuit buying guide – How to choose the best wetsuit for triathlon, open water swimming, SwimRun and cold water
Aviles Duathlon
What is a duathlon? Beginner’s guide to distances, training plans and kit
latest News
Men podium Wurf Heldoorn Horseau IRONMAN Lanzarote 2023 [Photo credit: James Mitchell / Club La Santa IRONMAN Lanzarote]
IRONMAN Austria 2024: Start time, preview and how to follow live
Lucy Charles-Barclay IRONMAN World Championship Kona 2023 Tape
IRONMAN France 2024: Start time, preview and how to follow live as Lucy Charles-Barclay chase Nice validation
T100 San Francisco 2024 Men sprint finish - Marten Van Riel, Kyle Smith, Rico Bogen
Kyle Smith says Olympic Games triathlon dream still alive but focus now turns to Taupo glory bid
Joe Skipper IRONMAN Arizona 2022 [Photo credit Patrick McDermott Getty Images for IRONMAN]
IRONMAN Cairns 2024: Start time, preview and how to watch on livestream or TV
India Lee (GBR) crosses the finish line in first in Miami.
British triathlon star India Lee reveals she almost QUIT the sport before receiving lifeline contract
triathlon on your terms
Never miss out with our triathlon alerts & digest. Get a dose of adventure & inspiration with Boundless.
Invalid email address
The SBRX Group

Proudly elevating endurance sports through content, products & services

SBRX
RUN247
GET RACE READY - SHOP WITH SBRX
Share to...