Over the three years that Bob McKay has spent watching his gun triathlete son Connor racing all over Australia and the world; he couldn’t help but catch the bug. At the age of 46, the tables will be turned this weekend as Connor, 18, heads to Cairns to watch his Dad tackle his first ever Ironman 70.3 (Half Ironman).
“He’s always there watching me, so it will be good to go along and give him the support he’s given me” – Connor McKay
You could say that Connor was always an athletic kid – he started running and swimming at a young age, and then progressed to rowing in his teens. It was then that his rowing coach suggested he take up cycling as a cross training sport.
“I bought a road bike and quite enjoyed it,” says Connor, winding up his night training session with Keenan Wockner’s squad of talented juniors at Tobruk Pool. “So I thought, why not give a triathlon a go after always running and swimming? I tried one – it was the Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon – and really enjoyed it, and it kind of went from there.”
Three years on, Connor is dominating Sprint triathlon in North Queensland – winning the Saunders Beach Tri on May 31 and placing third in the tough Julia Creek Dirt n Dust race in April – and has also raced overseas in the World Championships against athletes four years his senior.
“Last year I went to the World Championships for the second time in Canada,” explains Connor who balances his intensive training with a full-time physiotherapy degree at JCU and two part-time jobs; one of them conveniently at Run N Ride. “The first time I went [London] was two years ago back in Grade 12 and I finished 48th. I was one of the youngest in the team – I’d only just turned 16 in the Under 20s. I decided to go back again in 2014 – I was 17 and a little bit more experienced, and I managed to finish 18th and was the first Australian to cross the line, so I was much happier with that.”
It was during these overseas trips that Bob’s mind started to tick: He was loving the atmosphere, the scenery and – in the races closer to home – was noticing the wide range of ability in the participants.
“You look at some of the spots we’ve been to – London and Canada, Hamilton Island and the Gold Coast – we were going to some really nice places, and I realised that the sport also caters to old fat blokes like me,” Bob says, laughing. “You get everything from the guys taking it seriously to the ones who just want to get involved and give it a go.”
Bob started with the Sprint events – not aiming for any podiums – and last year he decided to try his first Classic distance (formerly Olympic distance) triathlon at the Townsville Triathlon Festival, followed by another at Mooloolaba this year. The seed for something longer was planted:
“The Sprint distance was initially as far as I wanted to go,” says Bob, whose wife Allison is also very active and doing the running leg of the Ironman 70.3 this weekend. “Then I thought I’d try an Olympic. I actually enjoyed the Olympic distance more because – as you get older – you can’t have your heart rate elevated the whole time and it’s easier to do a longer distance as you settle into a bit of a rhythm. So then I thought – right – we’ll tick off the Half (70.3) Ironman. I don’t see it going any longer than that!”
Bob admits he’s feeling nervous ahead of Sunday’s race, but he’ll be focusing on that post-finish-line beer and the continuing celebrations. He’s excited about Connor being there to see him – and no doubt offer some friendly bantering – and Connor is looking forward to returning the support from the sidelines.
“It’s an amazing race up there and, at the end of the day, it will be even better going to watch Dad,” Connor tells, whose next race will be the Townsville Triathlon Festival where he’s stepping up from Sprint to his first Olympic Distance. “He’s always there watching me, so it will be good to go along and give him the support he’s given me.”
But then in true father-son style, Connor can’t resist adding: “Whenever we race together I’m normally finishing when he’s just starting the run, so I have to turn back and run with him otherwise he won’t do it (laughs). Unfortunately, with Ironman, they have banned running next to other competitors, so I don’t know what we’re going to do!”
Bob laughs, reflecting on the time in Canada last year after the World Championships when they decided to embark on a leisurely 300km bike ride over three days.
“We rode from Jasper to Banff, and for 300km he put shit on me the whole way!” says Bob. “Three days of absolutely getting belted!”
Adds Connor: “We were on a holiday so he wanted to enjoy it, but – no way – I’ll race you the whole time!”
On a more serious note, Bob is understandably proud of his son, and not just for his achievements with triathlon. “At the age of 18 when a lot of people his age are letting their hair down, Connor is training five times a week in the pool, four on the bike, and does seven runs – the fact that he’s balancing that on the back of full-time Uni and two part-time jobs – I take my hat off to him that he’s managing all of those successfully,” says Bob who employs 150 staff through his own business. “He’s a well-rounded person in that sense – he realises the value of a dollar and that you need to work hard to achieve things in life.”
For Connor, the load is made much easier by the support of his family and the fact that they all share the same active lifestyle. Connor’s sister Eliza, 14, is a dancer and she’s training six nights a week, plus Allison is running and cycling most days: “It’s pretty full-on in our household at 4.30am and pretty quiet at 8.30pm,” Bob says with a laugh.
Connor agrees: “It makes you want to get up more. When your alarm goes off at 4.30am and you think, ‘Geez, training – what am I doing? This is crazy’. You get up and see everyone else in the house is awake and going to do something – it just makes you feel like you’re all in the same boat.”
As Connor remains dedicated to the approaching goal of his first Olympic distance tri on June 28, he’s taking it all in his stride and trying not to succumb to pressure or expectations.
“I just want to try an Olympic distance,” he says, matter-of-factly. “The way I’ve been training I think I can do really well, but I just want to get it finished. There will be other guys there, like Sam Murphy [Townsville-based Ironman athlete], who do much longer distances and are better at it. I find myself that being younger and with the training that I’ve been doing, I’m much better at Sprint distance at the moment. So it will be interesting to see how it transitions over, but I’m more excited to see how I go when I get a bit older.”
We wish both Bob and Connor the best of luck with their upcoming events.
Triathlon Distance Cheat Sheet
Sprint: 750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run
Classic (formerly Olympic): 1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run
70.3 Ironman: 1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run
Ironman: 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run
If you’re curious to try triathlon we have partnered with local businesses and sporting groups to offer a host of free sessions as part of the Triathlon and Multisport Series. See the full schedule of activities here.