James Irvine, who grew up in Estevan before leaving for university, has been selected as a participant in NBCSN’s television program the Quest for Kona.
The TV series follows a group of 11 individuals, selected from around the world, who are vying to participate in the Ironman World Championship taking place in Kona, Hawaii, later this year.
Irvine,65, left Estevan around 1970, to attend the University of Saskatchewan while pursuing a medical degree. He then travelled to Papua New Guinea where he worked as a doctor for several years before returning to Canada and settling down in La Ronge.
When Irvine isn’t training for his next event, he spends his days at his full-time job as a public health doctor for the northern half of Saskatchewan.
He didn’t compete in his first Ironman event until he was 55, when his sons inspired him to pursue the goal.
“I used to enjoy getting on my bike and riding out to Boundary Dam and going for a swim, then riding back when I was growing up,” said Irvine.
“When I came back from Papua New Guinea, I heard about the Ironman event and I thought to myself, ‘that sounds so cool,’ but I never really put much thought into it after that,” said Irvine. “But in La Ronge we have a little triathlon in August every year, so originally I started doing it by myself, then my sons started doing it with me.
“At one point my two sons and me did an adventure race together, and it was so enjoyable that we figured that we would try to train for an Ironman event together. It’s been a great way to stay in contact with my sons and travel together, and my wife has been very supportive about it.”
Now having competed in five full Ironman triathlons, and six half Ironmans, Irvine has created his own workout regimen to keep himself in peak shape while preparing for events, all while chasing after the ultimate goal – to compete in the world championship in Kona.
“I think the reason why I was selected to be on the TV show is that the people that compete in these events often come from major cities or have major triathlon programs under their belt, but in La Ronge, although we have a beautiful environment, there’s no pool, and no training centre. So I have to do things like cross-country skiing and swimming in the lake by my house. In the winter I ride a fat tire bike and snowshoe to stay in shape,” said Irvine.
“Some of the people selected to be on the show are professional triathlon athletes. One is a former Olympic athlete, and there are people from around the world. But being selected for the show doesn’t guarantee a spot at the championship; they just follow your trials and tribulations to show the world.”
This year marks the 40-year anniversary of the original Ironman event. Originally inspired by an argument at an awards banquet for the Waikiki Swim Club involving John Collins, an American naval officer stationed in Hawaii, with his fellow athletes, regarding who was the most conditioned athlete: swimmers, cyclists or runners. On Feb. 18, 1978 the first ever Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon was held on the shores of Waikiki.
The events are world renowned for their difficulty, and only the most determined athletes can hope to be invited to the world championships, which include a 3.8-kilometre swim, a 180-kilometre bicycle ride and a 42-kilometre marathon to finish the day.
“Every event the goal is just to finish,” said Irvine. “But moving from just trying to finish, into the stage of trying to get first place in your age group on an international field, is something really big.”
Thousands of athletes from around the world compete every year for an opportunity to make it to Kona, but only around 2,000 do so. The Quest for Kona TV series highlights the trials of 11 of these athletes with one-hour long episodes as they compete in various qualifying triathlons. A spot on the show does not guarantee an athlete a spot in the world championship race. The show airs after the Kona championship event in late October.
“An opportunity arose early last winter where the show’s producers were looking for people around the world who would be interested in having their training and experiences shared with the world, with the ultimate goal of making it to the world championships in Hawaii,” said Irvine.
“My son encouraged me to send in a one-minute video clip about myself and it turned out that I happened to get a call back and did some interviews, and I got lucky enough to be selected.”
Irvine competed in a half Ironman in June and was able to place high enough in the standings to be invited to compete in the half Ironman championship in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in September. One of Irvine’s sons has also qualified to compete in the half Ironman championship along with his father, and one has qualified to compete in the 2019 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Nice, France.
Irvine also recently competed in an Ironman event in Whistler, B.C., held on July 29.
Television crews were present to record Irvine’s Whistler race, following his journey with a team of four videographers using drones and motorcycle film crews to follow him.
Receiving a fourth place finish in his age group at the Whistler event will keep Irvine from being able to compete in this year’s Kona World Championship event.
“So unfortunately for me this year, because I didn’t place in the top three for my group in the Whistler race, I won’t be able to compete in Kona, but I’ll try for another year, and now I have to spend my time getting my head around preparing for the South Africa event which is only about four weeks away,” said Irvine.
Although he won’t compete in the World Championship, Irvine is still excited for the opportunity to be part of the South Africa event and admits he will be spending his time preparing for the large amounts of travel and many unknowns he will face before and during the event.
“What’s happening in the next few days is that a videographer from San Diego with Ironman will be coming to La Ronge to film me and get an idea of what the training is like up here and what sort of things I do, so I’m looking forward to that,” said Irvine.
“It’s still quite remarkable to me, to really see the wide range of individuals that make it to the start line at events like these. It’s really all about setting goals and just following them and never giving up.”
For more information of Irvine’s journey and to find out more on the events visit the Ironman website.