One of New Zealand's triathlon pioneers intends to return to where it all began for him more than 30 years ago at the World Masters Games 2017.
Dr John Hellemans made his triathlon debut down by the Auckland Waterfront in 1983 when the sport was in its infancy and the Christchurch-based legend of the sport admits he can't wait to compete at the same location when the multi-sport festival arrives in the “City of Sails” in a little over two years time.
“When I first heard that Auckland was hosting the World Masters Games I got excited,” admits John, 62. “I had heard a lot about the World Masters Games and I thought I would love to compete at one. Then when I heard it was in Auckland, and probably at the same course as the first triathlon I ever did down the Auckland Waterfront, I thought I would love to experience the event.”
Born in the Netherlands, John relocated to New Zealand in 1979. A keen swimmer in his native land he joined a running club in Blenheim when he first arrived in his new country and when he first became aware of the then fledgling sport of triathlon he was tempeted to give it a go.
“I could swim and run and because every Dutchman can ride a bike, the combination really appealed to me,” adds John with a laugh.
Back then the only triathlon in New Zealand took place annually in Auckland but after winning on his debut by “a reasonably large margin” a passion was ignited and so began a long and proud affiliation with the sport.
He later went on to represent New Zealand at the World Championships and at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, and he has continued to compete in endurance sport including the 2001 length of New Zealand race from Bluff to Cape Reinga and 2013 World Championship Ironman event in Hawaii.
The doctor in sports medicine also started a coaching career in the 1980s leading former ITU world champion and two-time Ironman world champion Erin Baker to huge success and more latterly coaching Olympians Ben Bright, Andrea Hewitt and Craig Watson as well as the Dutch national team.
“I've always been a reluctant coach,” admits John, who confesses he can claim very little credit for Baker's stellar career. “Over time it just become who I am and I'm still doing it.”
Today the grandfather of three still trains between eight to ten hours per week and he is relishing the prospect of competing in Auckland at World Masters Games, when he will be competing at the top of the 60+ age group in triathlon. He may also opt to compete in the open water swim or cycling time trial and he encourages other potential competitors not to miss the opportunity to come to Auckland.
“It is not only a great chance to compete against the best in the world in your age group, but it is also a great excuse to visit New Zealand, which it is a wonderful country,” he insists. “If you have the chance to come you should grab it.”