“At the final moments, I didn’t run with my body, I ran with my heart.” 32-year-old Bangladeshi triathlete Mohammad Shamsuzzaman Arafat had this to say on Sunday morning after successfully completing the Ironman World Championship Race in the US.
There is a reason behind Arafat’s statement. During the cycling phase of the world’s biggest Ironman race, where he had to ride a bicycle for 180 km, his and another competitor’s cycle collided and he fell on the road.
Arafat told Prothom Alo, “I was going at 50 km (per hour) and going down a slope on the side of a hill. After the collision I lay on the side of the road for 10 minutes or so. I had cuts and scrapes all over my arms and legs. It was hurting a lot.”
When Arafat realised that his arms and legs were not broken, he dragged his injured body atop his bicycle and once again started pedalling. Arafat said, “I thought about the people who helped me every step of the way. My dream of flying the Bangladesh flag at the finish line of the biggest Ironman competition in the world gave me the strength to finish the final stage.”
Ironman competition is the toughest triathlon race in the world, consisting of swimming, cycling and running over long distances. The biggest Ironman competition, the Ironman World Championship, was held in Utah state of the US. Arafat took 11 hours 32 minutes and 10 seconds to conquer the Ironman challenge. He crossed the finish line at 6:35 PM on Saturday local time (Bangladesh Standard Time 6:35 AM on Sunday). Arafat had to swim for 3.8 km, ride a bicycle on a hilly road for 180 km and run 42.2 km.
3,597 triathletes took part in this year’s Ironman World Championship, which was organised by the Utah Sports Commission. 2,284 competitors conquered the challenge. Out of them, Arafat was placed 492nd. Out of 2,177 male triathletes, Arafat was placed 429th and out of 194 competitors in the 30-34 age group, Arafat finished 61st.
The top three positions in the men’s category were held by Norway’s Kristian Blumenfelt (7 hours 49 minutes 16 seconds), Canada’s Lionel Sanders (7 hours 54 minutes 3 seconds) and New Zealand’s Braden Currie (7 hours 54 minutes 19 seconds) respectively.
In the women’s category, the top three positions went to Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf (8 hours 34 minutes 59 seconds), UK’s Kat Matthews (8 hours 43 minutes 49 seconds) and Germany’s Anne Haug (8 Hours 87 minutes 3 seconds) respectively.
World’s top most professional triathletes took part in the Ironman World Championship. Arafat said, “A number of Olympic gold medalists also took part in the race. My target was to complete the challenge in 13 hours. But I finished it in 11 and a half hours.” This is Arafat’s best timing in Ironman competitions.
Arafat began the triathlon at 7:03 AM local time with swimming. It took him 1 hour and nine minutes to complete the 3.8 km swim. After that, he completed the 180 km bicycle race in 5 hours 51 minutes and 44 seconds. He took another four hours and 18 minutes to complete the final stage of running 42.2 km.
Arafat arrived at the Saint George town on 15 April and trained rigorously till last Thursday. He trained under the supervision of world class triathlon coaches. Arafat told Prothom Alo, “After coming to the US, I saw and realised how much we are lagging behind international level athletes in terms of training. As triathlon is not a very common sport in Bangladesh, the opportunity to learn and practice is scarce. I want to prepare many more athletes in Bangladesh for the Ironman triathlon. We can do much better in Ironman competitions.”
A triathlete has to complete multiple Ironman challenges and showcase special abilities to get a chance to compete in the world championship. It took Arafat three years to get selected as a competitor in the world championship. In the Ironman World Championship Arafat was participant no. 1130.
On 18 September, 2021, Arafat completed the 70.3 World Championship (half of the total distance of the world championship) in Saint George town. Before that, he successfully completed challenges in Ironman Malaysia in 2017, Ironman European Championship in Germany and Ironman Malaysia in 2019 and the 70.3 Ironman challenge in Thailand in 2020.
Previously, Ironman Arafat has inspired the country’s youth by running 1000km from Teknaf to Tentulia and also swimming across the Bangla channel in the Bay of Bengal eight times. He has transformed himself into an Ironman through intense training and has found success in the toughest day-long international competition in the world. In last year’s November, on the occasion of Prothom Alo’s founding anniversary, director Redoan Rony made a documentary on him titled Ironman Arafat.
Prothom Alo helped Arafat to fulfill his dream of competing in the Ironman World Championship by becoming his main sponsor. Dabur Honey, Bangladesh Finance Limited, Meghna Group of Industries (MGI), Honda Bangladesh-DHS Motors Limited and Beacon Pharmaceuticals were associate sponsors.
*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy.