WHILE other families might choose to spend time together by sharing a meal or going on a picnic, the O’Neill’s prefer to take to the track.
This weekend all six of the O’Neill’s will compete in the Australian Ironman Championships at Port Macquarie, the second time the family has achieved the miraculous feat.
Fifty-seven-year-old Brett O’Neill was the first in the family to tackle the 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and 42km run back in 1999. Since then the entire family has been inspired to take up the challenge, with all six family members regularly competing.
In 2008 the family completed the improbable task of all competing in the same ironman competition for the first time when Susie and Brett joined their four children at Port Macquarie. Combined the six family members have completed 58 ironman events.
Susie said the feeling which completing an ironman event invoked was unattainable through any other activity, which was what kept the family coming back for more.
“Because it’s such a challenge, when you cross the finish line for the first time it’s like you’re floating on air,” Susie said.
Because it’s such a challenge, when you cross the finish line for the first time it's like you’re floating on air.- Susie O'Neill, ironman competitor
The weekend’s race which will be Susie’s 15th ironman is likely to be her last, after undergoing open heart surgery to remove a tumor in recently. She has since competed twice.
Susie said while she was certain ironman had assisted her speedy recovery, the physical strain of the event was too great to continue. She will however continue to compete in shorter forms of the sport.
“Ironman gives you a level of fitness which really helps you with your recovery from illness,” Susie said. “But I don’t want to put myself under that pressure of pushing my heart rate right up.”
Susie’s children Emma, Matthew and Ben now live down on the surf coast and are active members of Geelong Performance Coaching. Susie’s other daughter Kate will also be joined by her boyfriend Ricky Leyonhjelm in the race.
Susie said when she told the family she was thinking of retiring from the event they were all determined to join her on the course one last time. “The four of them are very good so they finish pretty high in their age groups and they’re really putting in the hard yards,” Susie said. “They’ve been getting up at 4.30 in the morning so they can train before work.”
The family will also have an added motivator when they take to the course this weekend after the recent death of Susie’s mother. Susie said “she was always there to see us at the finish line cheering us on”.
While the 56-year-old admits she is certainly in the twilight of her ironman career, she is refusing to rule out a comeback somewhere down the track.
“My 10-year-old grandson said he wants to do one when he turns 18, so I’m not ruling anything out,” Susie said.
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